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Hundreds of migrant workers expect to be stranded in Canada over Christmas – CTV News

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TORONTO —
Each of the past 33 years, Chanderbose Mahadeo has spent six months in Canada, working at a farm to earn a living for himself and his family in Trinidad and Tobago.

Six months performing difficult, demanding work that most Canadians don’t want to do. Six months away from his children and grandchildren.

This year, though, is different.

“Normally we come up in April and we leave in October, but this year we don’t know when we’ll be going home,” Mahadeo told CTV News on Monday.

Harvest season is long over, meaning there’s no longer any reason for Mahadeo to remain in Canada – in fact, based on his employment contract, he’s supposed to be out of the country already.

But as has happened to so many others this year, Mahadeo’s life has been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. Trinidad and Tobago has imposed strict travel restrictions to try and limit the spread of the novel coronavirus on the islands, including banning all commercial flights.

The government has organized some repatriation flights, although word of them hasn’t always trickled down to individual farms and workers.

That’s starting to change. Mahadeo learned on Tuesday that he has been booked on a flight for Dec. 28. Now, though, there’s a new difficulty: obtaining the required negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of takeoff, over the Christmas holiday period.

“I can’t enjoy Christmas, knowing they’re sitting here in the bunkhouse and they’re not home with their families,” Ray Ferri told CTV News on Monday.

Ferri is the co-owner of a farm near Collingwood, Ont. where Mahadeo and five other Trinidadians are longtime farmhands. This year, the group’s usual April arrival was delayed because of issues leaving Trinidad and Tobago during the pandemic. When they finally made it to Canada in July, they had to quarantine for two weeks before they could go out into the fields.

The federal government is allowing the workers caught in this situation to apply for extended open work permits at no cost. This will allow them to apply for employment insurance – providing them an income they don’t have now that harvest season is over – and access health care. It also gives them more options when it comes to finding work outside the farm, although a lack of transportation means there are few feasible options.

Four of the six workers at Ferri’s farm, including Mahadeo, are still hoping to get home and spend time with their families before returning in 2021. All four are booked on the Dec. 28 repatriation flight.

“We don’t want … EI. We don’t want to renew our visas. We want to go home,” Mahadeo said.

“I’m missing out on everything in life.”

In the midst of the pandemic, there isn’t much life to speak of for the workers. At Ferri’s farm, they’re sharing a bunkhouse – and distractions such as walking, cooking and watching TV can only last for so long.

“We haven’t been doing anything – we’re just here, sitting,” Ronald Scepture, a nine-summer veteran of the farm, told CTV News on Monday.

Even if a flight is arranged last-minute and word does trickle down to the workers or their employers, there’s another complication: A requirement to have a negative COVID-19 test result 72 hours before the departure time.

Diane French, who owns a farm near Shelburne, Ont., is also concerned about what new hurdles next year might bring, and what that will mean for the future of farms like hers.

Her main crop is rhubarb, which grows inside over the winter. When harvest time rolled around in April, with no Trinidadian workers in the country, she had to recruit local students with little to no farming experience. Three-quarters of this year’s crop never made it out of the ground.

“If we weren’t able to get these workers from Trinidad, or from any country, we may as well sell the farm. We cannot get Canadian workers,” she told CTV News on Monday.

“We’re farmers, we say ‘OK, next year will be better’ … but how many more next years can we say?”

There are approximately 400 migrant workers from Trinidad and Tobago still in Canada long after they had expected to return home, living on farms in Ontario and Alberta. Even if the plane is full on Dec. 28, 260 of them will remain stranded in Canada.

The isolation is difficult. The cold weather is new and unexpected. And with Christmas only days away, frustration and anger are setting in.

“I’m not home with my wife, not home with my son,” Scepture said.

“Our government has literally abandoned us.”

Their exasperation is shared by their employers, who say they’re worried about the mental health of workers they’ve known, in some cases, for decades.

“They’ve got a place to live, warm clothes, food – but as for their mental well-being, we can’t help them there. They’re stranded,” Ferri said.

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Radio-Canada head travelled to Florida despite federal travel advisory – CBC.ca

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CBC/Radio-Canada’s executive vice-president of French services is apologizing for travelling to Florida last month despite the federal government strongly warning against non-essential travel during the pandemic.

Michel Bissonnette, who oversees French-language television, radio and digital content for the public broadcaster, owns property in Miami and stayed there Dec. 2 to Dec. 27. He both worked and vacationed while south of the border, said Radio-Canada spokesperson Marc Pichette in an email.

The story was first reported on by the National Post Thursday morning.

“Since the start of the pandemic in March, he has made one trip there to tend to business regarding this property,” said Pichette.

“For all the time he was in Miami, he never went to any restaurant or any retail store. Upon his return, he quarantined for 14 days. Mr. Bissonnette followed both the corporation’s policies and provincial health requirements.”

The Canadian government has had an advisory in place urging against non-essential international travel since March 14, 2020.

“Canadian citizens and permanent residents are advised to avoid all non-essential travel outside of Canada until further notice to limit the spread of COVID-19,” it reads.

“The best way to protect yourself, your family and those most at risk of severe illness from COVID-19 in our communities is to choose to stay in Canada.”

CBC/Radio-Canada’s own internal policy also urges against travel.

“We strongly recommend that employees refrain from travelling abroad,” the policy says.

“Should you decide to travel outside the country, please inform your supervisor before you go and after you return.”

CBC president also travelled to U.S.

In a statement Thursday afternoon, Bissonnette said he understands the reaction to his trip given the advisory.

He apologized, in French, to employees and the public.

Kim Trynacity, CBC branch president of the Canadian Media Guild, said while the trip might not have broken any laws, it runs against public health advice.

“Leaders have a responsibility to set an example,” she said in an email.

“As we saw recently with all the politicians who went on vacation during Christmas, they weren’t breaking any laws, but it just doesn’t look good and is contrary to what healthcare professionals advise.”

As reported by Canadaland back in December, Catherine Tait, president of CBC, has also travelled to the U.S. since the international travel advisory was put in place.

President and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada Catherine Tait, pictured at 2018 conference, travelled to New York in March to care for her husband, who lives there and had undergone a medical procedure, and again in November. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

According to a statement, Tait travelled to New York on March 29, 2020, to care for her husband, who lives there and had undergone a medical procedure.

CBC spokesperson Leon Mar said she worked there until June 8, when she returned to her home in Ottawa. He said she went back to New York Nov. 13 and returned to Canada on Dec. 27. 

“This travel was done with the knowledge of CBC/Radio-Canada’s Board of Directors. Ms. Tait did not ask for or receive any special exemption from the government for her travel and continues to follow all quarantine requirements,” said the statement.

In a followup email to CBC, Mar said Tait has no plans to travel to the U.S. in the future.

Shachi Kurl, president of the Angus Reid Institute, told CBC News, that seven in 10 Canadians have postponed or cancelled trips and family gatherings at home and abroad since the pandemic began and they tend to look at those who disobey the travel advice as entitled and elitist. 

“Canadians are saying, ‘Look, we’re staying home. Why why do we get the sense that everyone else or a lot of other folks out there in this country are coming and going as they please?'” she told CBC News.

Politicians questioned over international travel

A number of public officer holders have been embroiled in controversy for travelling abroad. 

Last month Ontario Progressive Conservative MPP Rod Phillips stepped down from his high-profile job as finance minister after returning from a controversial Caribbean vacation while the province is under strict lockdown measures.

Federally, five MPs are known to have left the country in December. Three of those MPs — the NDP’s Niki Ashton and Liberals Kamal Khera and Sameer Zuberi — did so because of family members who were sick or who recently had passed away. 

Calgary-Signal Hill Conservative MP Ron Liepert travelled to Palm Desert, Calif., on two occasions since March to address what his office called “essential house maintenance issues.” Liepert, who previously served as Alberta’s health and wellness minister, owns a home in the city. 

WATCH | Michael Bissonette travelled to Florida last month:

A top executive at CBC/Radio Canada is one of the latest public figures to be called out for travelling outside of Canada, in defiance of public health advice, while another CBC executive has also faced scrutiny over travel. 2:06

Conservative MP David Sweet resigned Jan. 4 from his position as chair of the House of Commons ethics committee over his holiday travel to the U.S.

Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, said the spate of reports about high-profile Canadians travelling internationally is worrisome.

“I’m gravely disappointed, alarmed and almost growing panicky to be honest. We’ve known from the beginning, since February, that travel was a serious problem,” he said in an interview. 

“People seem to feel that travel is a right or governments’ feel that taking away travel is not a politically wise thing to do. Both of those views are very harmful in my opinion.” 

Senate leaders have faced questions about leaving the country for sunnier spots.

Senate Opposition Leader Don Plett spent part of the Christmas holidays in Mexico, and Sen. Scott Tannas, leader of the Canadian Senators Group, confirmed he travelled to Hawaii during the holidays.

As part of its coverage, CBC News reached out to every senator to find out if they left the country.

“I am wondering whether you are doing a similar survey of all CBC employees regarding travel as they are also paid and funded by federal tax dollars,” responded Sen. Pamela Wallin, who added she has not travelled for more than a year.

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Radio-Canada head travelled to Florida despite federal travel advisory – CBC.ca

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CBC/Radio-Canada’s executive vice-president of French services is apologizing for travelling to Florida last month despite the federal government strongly warning against non-essential travel during the pandemic.

Michel Bissonnette, who oversees French-language television, radio and digital content for the public broadcaster, owns property in Miami and stayed there Dec. 2 to Dec. 27. He both worked and vacationed while south of the border, said Radio-Canada spokesperson Marc Pichette in an email.

The story was first reported on by the National Post Thursday morning.

“Since the start of the pandemic in March, he has made one trip there to tend to business regarding this property,” said Pichette.

“For all the time he was in Miami, he never went to any restaurant or any retail store. Upon his return, he quarantined for 14 days. Mr. Bissonnette followed both the corporation’s policies and provincial health requirements.”

The Canadian government has had an advisory in place urging against non-essential international travel since March 14, 2020.

“Canadian citizens and permanent residents are advised to avoid all non-essential travel outside of Canada until further notice to limit the spread of COVID-19,” it reads.

“The best way to protect yourself, your family and those most at risk of severe illness from COVID-19 in our communities is to choose to stay in Canada.”

CBC/Radio-Canada’s own internal policy also urges against travel.

“We strongly recommend that employees refrain from travelling abroad,” the policy says.

“Should you decide to travel outside the country, please inform your supervisor before you go and after you return.”

CBC president also travelled to U.S.

In a statement Thursday afternoon, Bissonnette said he understands the reaction to his trip given the advisory.

He apologized, in French, to employees and the public.

Kim Trynacity, CBC branch president of the Canadian Media Guild, said while the trip might not have broken any laws, it runs against public health advice.

“Leaders have a responsibility to set an example,” she said in an email.

“As we saw recently with all the politicians who went on vacation during Christmas, they weren’t breaking any laws, but it just doesn’t look good and is contrary to what healthcare professionals advise.”

As reported by Canadaland back in December, Catherine Tait, president of CBC, has also travelled to the U.S. since the international travel advisory was put in place.

President and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada Catherine Tait, pictured at 2018 conference, travelled to New York in March to care for her husband, who lives there and had undergone a medical procedure, and again in November. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

According to a statement, Tait travelled to New York on March 29, 2020, to care for her husband, who lives there and had undergone a medical procedure.

CBC spokesperson Leon Mar said she worked there until June 8, when she returned to her home in Ottawa. He said she went back to New York Nov. 13 and returned to Canada on Dec. 27. 

“This travel was done with the knowledge of CBC/Radio-Canada’s Board of Directors. Ms. Tait did not ask for or receive any special exemption from the government for her travel and continues to follow all quarantine requirements,” said the statement.

In a followup email to CBC, Mar said Tait has no plans to travel to the U.S. in the future.

Shachi Kurl, president of the Angus Reid Institute, told CBC News, that seven in 10 Canadians have postponed or cancelled trips and family gatherings at home and abroad since the pandemic began and they tend to look at those who disobey the travel advice as entitled and elitist. 

“Canadians are saying, ‘Look, we’re staying home. Why why do we get the sense that everyone else or a lot of other folks out there in this country are coming and going as they please?'” she told CBC News.

Politicians questioned over international travel

A number of public officer holders have been embroiled in controversy for travelling abroad. 

Last month Ontario Progressive Conservative MPP Rod Phillips stepped down from his high-profile job as finance minister after returning from a controversial Caribbean vacation while the province is under strict lockdown measures.

Federally, five MPs are known to have left the country in December. Three of those MPs — the NDP’s Niki Ashton and Liberals Kamal Khera and Sameer Zuberi — did so because of family members who were sick or who recently had passed away. 

Calgary-Signal Hill Conservative MP Ron Liepert travelled to Palm Desert, Calif., on two occasions since March to address what his office called “essential house maintenance issues.” Liepert, who previously served as Alberta’s health and wellness minister, owns a home in the city. 

WATCH | Michael Bissonette travelled to Florida last month:

A top executive at CBC/Radio Canada is one of the latest public figures to be called out for travelling outside of Canada, in defiance of public health advice, while another CBC executive has also faced scrutiny over travel. 2:06

Conservative MP David Sweet resigned Jan. 4 from his position as chair of the House of Commons ethics committee over his holiday travel to the U.S.

Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, said the spate of reports about high-profile Canadians travelling internationally is worrisome.

“I’m gravely disappointed, alarmed and almost growing panicky to be honest. We’ve known from the beginning, since February, that travel was a serious problem,” he said in an interview. 

“People seem to feel that travel is a right or governments’ feel that taking away travel is not a politically wise thing to do. Both of those views are very harmful in my opinion.” 

Senate leaders have faced questions about leaving the country for sunnier spots.

Senate Opposition Leader Don Plett spent part of the Christmas holidays in Mexico, and Sen. Scott Tannas, leader of the Canadian Senators Group, confirmed he travelled to Hawaii during the holidays.

As part of its coverage, CBC News reached out to every senator to find out if they left the country.

“I am wondering whether you are doing a similar survey of all CBC employees regarding travel as they are also paid and funded by federal tax dollars,” responded Sen. Pamela Wallin, who added she has not travelled for more than a year.

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Radio-Canada head travelled to Florida despite federal travel advisory – CBC.ca

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CBC/Radio-Canada’s executive vice-president of French services is apologizing for travelling to Florida last month despite the federal government strongly warning against non-essential travel during the pandemic.

Michel Bissonnette, who oversees French-language television, radio and digital content for the public broadcaster, owns property in Miami and stayed there Dec. 2 to Dec. 27. He both worked and vacationed while south of the border, said Radio-Canada spokesperson Marc Pichette in an email.

The story was first reported on by the National Post Thursday morning.

“Since the start of the pandemic in March, he has made one trip there to tend to business regarding this property,” said Pichette.

“For all the time he was in Miami, he never went to any restaurant or any retail store. Upon his return, he quarantined for 14 days. Mr. Bissonnette followed both the corporation’s policies and provincial health requirements.”

The Canadian government has had an advisory in place urging against non-essential international travel since March 14, 2020.

“Canadian citizens and permanent residents are advised to avoid all non-essential travel outside of Canada until further notice to limit the spread of COVID-19,” it reads.

“The best way to protect yourself, your family and those most at risk of severe illness from COVID-19 in our communities is to choose to stay in Canada.”

CBC/Radio-Canada’s own internal policy also urges against travel.

“We strongly recommend that employees refrain from travelling abroad,” the policy says.

“Should you decide to travel outside the country, please inform your supervisor before you go and after you return.”

CBC president also travelled to U.S.

In a statement Thursday afternoon, Bissonnette said he understands the reaction to his trip given the advisory.

He apologized, in French, to employees and the public.

Kim Trynacity, CBC branch president of the Canadian Media Guild, said while the trip might not have broken any laws, it runs against public health advice.

“Leaders have a responsibility to set an example,” she said in an email.

“As we saw recently with all the politicians who went on vacation during Christmas, they weren’t breaking any laws, but it just doesn’t look good and is contrary to what healthcare professionals advise.”

As reported by Canadaland back in December, Catherine Tait, president of CBC, has also travelled to the U.S. since the international travel advisory was put in place.

President and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada Catherine Tait, pictured at 2018 conference, travelled to New York in March to care for her husband, who lives there and had undergone a medical procedure, and again in November. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

According to a statement, Tait travelled to New York on March 29, 2020, to care for her husband, who lives there and had undergone a medical procedure.

CBC spokesperson Leon Mar said she worked there until June 8, when she returned to her home in Ottawa. He said she went back to New York Nov. 13 and returned to Canada on Dec. 27. 

“This travel was done with the knowledge of CBC/Radio-Canada’s Board of Directors. Ms. Tait did not ask for or receive any special exemption from the government for her travel and continues to follow all quarantine requirements,” said the statement.

In a followup email to CBC, Mar said Tait has no plans to travel to the U.S. in the future.

Shachi Kurl, president of the Angus Reid Institute, told CBC News, that seven in 10 Canadians have postponed or cancelled trips and family gatherings at home and abroad since the pandemic began and they tend to look at those who disobey the travel advice as entitled and elitist. 

“Canadians are saying, ‘Look, we’re staying home. Why why do we get the sense that everyone else or a lot of other folks out there in this country are coming and going as they please?'” she told CBC News.

Politicians questioned over international travel

A number of public officer holders have been embroiled in controversy for travelling abroad. 

Last month Ontario Progressive Conservative MPP Rod Phillips stepped down from his high-profile job as finance minister after returning from a controversial Caribbean vacation while the province is under strict lockdown measures.

Federally, five MPs are known to have left the country in December. Three of those MPs — the NDP’s Niki Ashton and Liberals Kamal Khera and Sameer Zuberi — did so because of family members who were sick or who recently had passed away. 

Calgary-Signal Hill Conservative MP Ron Liepert travelled to Palm Desert, Calif., on two occasions since March to address what his office called “essential house maintenance issues.” Liepert, who previously served as Alberta’s health and wellness minister, owns a home in the city. 

Conservative MP David Sweet resigned Jan. 4 from his position as chair of the House of Commons ethics committee over his holiday travel to the U.S.

Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, said the spate of reports about high-profile Canadians travelling internationally is worrisome.

“I’m gravely disappointed, alarmed and almost growing panicky to be honest. We’ve known from the beginning, since February, that travel was a serious problem,” he said in an interview. 

“People seem to feel that travel is a right or governments’ feel that taking away travel is not a politically wise thing to do. Both of those views are very harmful in my opinion.” 

Senate leaders have faced questions about leaving the country for sunnier spots.

Senate Opposition Leader Don Plett spent part of the Christmas holidays in Mexico, and Sen. Scott Tannas, leader of the Canadian Senators Group, confirmed he travelled to Hawaii during the holidays.

As part of its coverage, CBC News reached out to every senator to find out if they left the country.

“I am wondering whether you are doing a similar survey of all CBC employees regarding travel as they are also paid and funded by federal tax dollars,” responded Sen. Pamela Wallin, who added she has not travelled for more than a year.

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