After migrant worker Luis Gabriel Flores Flores tested positive for COVID-19 following an outbreak at an Ontario produce farm, he turned to journalists to share his fears over what he described as unsafe working conditions.
A few weeks later — only one day after his bunkmate had died of COVID-19 — his employer came looking for Flores at the bunkhouse where the workers lived.
He was told that he, and three others who were suspected of speaking to press, were being fired.
They told Flores they would be “sending [him] back to Mexico at dawn,” he said.
These allegations, which the farm in question denies, are described in an 8-page legal complaint to the Ontario Labour Relations Board, and in a letter Flores delivered this week to the office of Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino in downtown Toronto.
The complaint alleges that Flores’s employment was terminated unjustly in a reprisal against him for speaking out about the poor working conditions his employer subjected him to. As part of his complaint, Flores is seeking $28,000 in damages for direct and future earning losses, as well as $10,000 for emotional pain and suffering he endured.
And they are raising an alarm in the hopes that the federal government will hear them.
“We’re here because we’re calling on the federal government of Canada to give full and permanent immigration status for all,” Syed Hussan, Executive Director of MWAC, said in the press conference.
“Migrant workers want to protect their health, want to protect their safety, but it’s federal immigration rules that make it impossible for them to do so.”
Three migrant workers have died of COVID-19 in Canada so far, Hussan said, and 1,100 are sick.
One of these deaths was Juan Lopez Chapparo, a 55-year-old father who worked and lived with Flores.
During the pandemic, the farms that many of these migrant workers were employed at were declared essential, and migrant workers were allowed to enter the country even when borders were closed to others.
But because seasonal migrant workers have such a precarious status within the country, it is harder for them to stand up to employers who take advantage of them or subject them to unjust working conditions, according to MWAC — a reality that the pandemic made even more dangerous.
Flores was in Canada on a restricted work permit, which meant his ability to remain in Canada was tied completely to the specific employer he had travelled to Canada to work with.
“One in 23 people in this country — or 1.6 million people in the country — don’t have permanent immigration status, can’t access basic health care, can’t access basic work, and they are fired when they speak out,” Hussan said.
Flores is 36 years old, and from Mexico City. He originally started travelling to Canada for seasonal work in 2014, and has worked four seasons in the country.
This year, he arrived in April to work at a Norfolk Country asparagus farm owned by the Scotlynn Group.
According to Flores’ letter, which he read out at the press conference, when they arrived at the farm, they found cramped, unsanitary housing conditions.
“There was very little space in the room, and in the houses,” he said. “It was impossible to keep distant.”
He added that protective gear such as face masks or hand sanitizer were not provided for workers.
Then, people began to exhibit symptoms of COVID-19, including one of Flores’ roommates: Chapparo.
Workers told the foreman that there were sick people, Flores said, “and asked for them to get medical attention.
“They ignored us.”
Employers only began to pay attention to the outbreak when an ambulance had to be called for a worker who was seriously ill, according to Flores.
By the time the workforce was tested, 199 out of 221 workers had already contracted the virus and tested positive.
Flores was among them.
He was horrified by what had happened on the farm, and the working conditions that he and his fellow workers had been put through. So while he was going through his second quarantine, he spoke anonymously to press outlets about the outbreak and labour exploitation, in order to shine a light on the mistreatment migrant workers are facing during this pandemic.
When these allegations surfaced, Scott Biddle, President and CEO of Scotlynn Group, denied them, telling CTV News in early June that workers had been immediately taken to hospital for evaluations when they became sick.
After Flores returned to work, he said that even after the outbreak, “conditions really had hardly changed.”
On June 20, Flores and his coworkers were given the tragic news that Chapparo had died of COVID-19.
They were “shocked,” he said. “It left us very saddened and also afraid [for] our lives.
“I told the foreman the farm should take responsibility for what happened,” Flores said. “Perhaps Juan’s death and this illness could have been prevented if they had paid attention to us when we were asking for help.”
Flores alleges that the very next day, Biddle’s father, Robert Biddle Jr., fired him after accusing him of speaking to the media, and threatened him with deportation.
“Mr. Flores was fired as a sign,” Hussan said. “As a symbol from employers and from federal immigration laws that if you speak up in this country, you can be made homeless, you can be deported.”
Scotlynn Group declined an on-camera interview with CTV News, but said that Flores’ allegations are “totally false,” and that Flores was “never fired from the company or threatened to be deported.”
The prospect of being deported was frightening to Flores, who works in Canada to support his family. Back home, he has a wife, two daughters, and a mother with disabilities, who recently had a major operation that the family still owes money for.
It was then that he reached out to MWAC for help and temporary lodging.
“My story is a story of many others,” he said. “What happened to me can and does happen to many migrant workers.”
He is calling for a “comprehensive immigration solution
“We spend most of the year in Canada, more time than we spend home with our families. We are an essential part of this economy and society, and we deserve the same rights.”
Many Canadians agree that things need to change. Already, more than 10,000 have signed an online petition demanding permanent status for the farm workers who put food on our tables.
With files from CTV News’ Molly Thomas
Albanian man extradited to Canada in connection with deadly 2014 crash in Richmond, B.C. – CBC.ca
Richmond RCMP have announced the successful extradition of an Albanian man who left Canada in 2014 shortly after being involved in a crash that claimed the life of a 36-year-old cyclist.
In a statement, RCMP wrote that on the afternoon of July 30, 2014, 33-year-old Erjon Kashari was driving a red Pontiac Aztek northbound, approaching the intersection of Russ Baker Way and Gilbert Road.
The statement said the vehicle was “approaching a red light at the intersection, when it suddenly veered right, drove over a concrete island at the intersection and struck a cyclist, before coming to rest in the grass off-road.”
The crash killed cyclist Christy Mahy of Richmond, who died in hospital.
Kashari was in Canada on a work permit at the time but left shortly afterwards. RCMP said charges were laid and a warrant was issued for his arrest in June 2018.
In July 2019, Kashari was taken into custody by Albanian police and held for extradition. The Richmond RCMP’s General Investigation Section then began the process to bring Kashari back to Canada to stand trial.
On Aug. 11, 2020, Richmond investigators travelled to Albania where Kashari was transferred to their custody and escorted back to Canada. He remains in custody facing one count of criminal negligence causing death.
Police say Interpol, Albanian authorities, the Department of Justice, the International Assistance Group, the Canada Border Services Agency, and RCMP liaison officers in the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Albania all assisted with the successful extradition.
Rola Dagher, president of Cisco Systems Canada, calls on Canadians to help rebuild Beirut – CBC.ca
When Rola Dagher first heard about the blast that rocked Beirut last week, she couldn’t move.
“Shocked, heartbroken, devastated and I froze. I don’t think I got out of my chair for four hours,” Dagher told CBC Toronto News at 6 host Dwight Drummond in an interview that aired on Wednesday.
Her nephew, a volunteer firefighter, was missing and her sister told her, crying, that she didn’t know if he was alive or not. After five hours and many phone calls, Dagher said her sister finally found out he had survived.
The blast itself was unreal, she said.
“It was like watching a movie. We couldn’t believe that it was real. I couldn’t stop crying. But at the same time, I was absolutely determined to find my nephew and to make sure that everyone is safe first,” she said.
Dagher, a Lebanese Canadian businesswoman who now lives in Toronto, said she knew she had to help. Thirty-one years ago, she left Lebanon, where she was born. She is now president of Cisco Systems Canada.
She said called about 10 Lebanese-Canadian leaders she knew and convinced them they had to give back to the community.
“I said, ‘We can’t be sitting here and just watching the news.’ I said: ‘We’re blessed for being in a country like Canada that is safe but it’s our job and our duty to give back to our community,'” she said.
‘Life is an opportunity for us to make the best of it’
“And I said: ‘We need to start the conversation and we need to start something and we need to lobby the government and we need to go after every single Lebanese person in Canada to start a movement.'”
Those calls led to the formation of the Lebanese Canadian Coalition that has pledged to raise $2.5 million for relief efforts in Beirut. It was up and running in three days.
Watch Rola Dagher talk to Dwight Drummond about the blast that rocked Beirut and the movement she has helped to start:
The massive explosion of nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate in Beirut’s port on Aug. 4 killed at least 171 people, injured about 6,000 others and caused widespread damage.
Meanwhile, the Canadian government has agreed to match all donations made by Canadians to specific humanitarian organizations between the dates of Aug. 4 and Aug. 24, up to a maximum of $5 million.
Now, Dagher says, the fundraising begins.
“If every Canadian donates a dollar, we can make a difference,” she says.
“We definitely need more support because what Lebanon is going through right now, it’s surreal. It’s going to take Lebanon a long time to rebuild.”
Dagher acknowledged to Drummond that she is making a name for herself as a business leader who has been outspoken on such subjects as immigration and mental health.
Last year, she was named one of the 2019 WXN Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada, the RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrant winners 2019 and the 2019 Women in Communications and Technology (WCT) Woman of the Year.
“My father taught me something that I would never forget: ‘Life owes you nothing. Life is an opportunity for us to make the best of it.’ And I learned everything that I know. I earned it because I worked hard. And the only way I could be blessed is to return it,” she says.
In an interview with Canadian Immigrant magazine this year, Dagher was asked to share her main piece of advice for people new to Canada. She said: “Learn it, earn it and return it.”
Coronavirus deaths top 9,000 in Canada – National | Globalnews.ca – Global News
The novel coronavirus has claimed the lives of more than 9,000 people in Canada since the virus was first confirmed in the country in late January.
The sobering milestone was reached on Aug. 12, after Quebec reported 12 more deaths attributed to COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus.
To date, there have been a total of 120,554 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 9,004 deaths across the country. Just over 107,000 people infected with the virus — or approximately 89 per cent of all cases — have recovered.
Based on data from the most recent seven days, an average of 443 new coronavirus cases have been reported daily across the country, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
“Presently, our efforts indicate that we are keeping COVID-19 spread under manageable control — but the virus is still circulating in Canada and we must not let down our guard,” Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said in a statement on Wednesday.
“Fortunately, the number of new deaths reported daily has remained low following a steep decline from the peak in early May when close to 200 deaths were reported daily. Fewer than 10 deaths have been reported per day on average over the last four weeks.”
Quebec continues to be the province with the largest caseload and highest death toll, reporting a total of 60,813 cases and 5,709 deaths to date. Eleven of the 12 new deaths recorded in that province occurred earlier in the year but were only reported Wednesday.
Ontario — Canada’s most populous province — follows, with a total of 40,289 reported cases and 2,787 deaths.
Health officials in Ontario said 95 new cases of the novel coronavirus were identified on Wednesday, and said one more death related to the virus had occurred.
The large majority of confirmed cases in both Ontario and Quebec have recovered, according to public health data.
Nunavut, meanwhile, continues to be the only province or territory without a single confirmed case of the virus.
Of the western provinces, Alberta has the largest outbreak, reporting a total of 11,772 cases and 216 deaths to date. British Columbia has reported 4,068 cases and 195 deaths so far.
In Saskatchewan five new cases of the virus were reported on Wednesday, bringing the province’s total to 1,484. So far 20 have died.
Manitoba saw new 16 new cases of the virus. Since the pandemic began the province has seen 578 infections and 8 deaths.
Group testing key to early coronavirus detection in Saskatchewan schools, biochemist says
The Yukon and the Northwest Territories have reported 15 and five cases, respectively; neither territory has reported a single death attributed to COVID-19.
To the east, there have been 1,071 cases and 64 deaths in Nova Scotia. New Brunswick has reported 178 cases and two fatalities.
Prince Edward Island has reported the lowest number of cases and deaths in Atlantic Canada with 36 cases and no fatalities. Newfound and Labrador has confirmed 268 COVID-19 cases and three deaths.
The novel coronavirus was first detected in China at the end of December 2019. The outbreak of the virus was declared a global pandemic a few months later, on Mar. 11, 2020.
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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