Family of deceased Jamaican farm worker claims the law discriminates against "racialized non-citizens" in dangerous jobs.
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Does a law that grants mandatory inquests only to workers killed on construction and mining sites violate the human rights of migrant farm workers who die in workplace accidents?
That was the focal question at an Ontario Human Rights Tribunal hearing on Friday into the complaint by the family of Ned Peart, a Jamaican worker who was crushed to death by a tobacco kiln Aug. 22, 2002 while working at the Vilaca Tobacco Farm in Brantford.
The family claims the provision of the Coroner’s Act that mandates inquests into the deaths of construction workers and miners excludes migrant workers in the Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) from the benefits of a public inquiry into their workplace deaths.
Farah Malik, lawyer for the family, said migrant farm workers are exclusively people of colour from the Caribbean and Mexico, and mandatory inquests can help prevent workplace deaths in dangerous occupations.
“Workplace situation of migrant farm workers is not improving,” Malik said in her final submissions. “To be blunt, the effect (of the provision) is racialized non-citizen agricultural workers will continue to work in dangerous work setting . . . . Nothing has been done to improve the workplace safety of this group.”
The coroner’s office has never held an inquest into the deaths of migrant workers, who are particularly vulnerable, said Malik, because their status in Canada is tied to their employers and they often get sent back to their home countries after suffering injuries at work.
However, Arif Virani, lawyer for the province, argued that migrant farm workers did not suffer disproportionate adverse impact from the exclusion of the clause as mandatory inquest does not apply to the agricultural sector as a whole Government statistics showed 67 per cent of the more than 500 agricultural deaths between 1990 and 2008 were related to Canadian farm owners, operators or their children, said Virani. In comparison, migrant workers only accounted for 11 per cent of the fatalities.
“There is no higher incident of fatality among migrant workers,” Virani told tribunal vice-chair Mark Hart.
Peart’s family has asked the tribunal to declare that the mandatory inquest provisions of the Coroner’s Act violate the human rights code and orders the province to comply by holding an inquest into Peart’s death.
The tribunal reserved its decision.
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Agriculture and horticulture workers and General farm workers
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