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Trouble in our Fields: Health and Human Rights among Mexican and Caribbean Migrant Farm Workers in Canada

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Janet McLauglin


Trouble in our Fields: Health and Human Rights among Mexican and Caribbean
Migrant Farm Workers in Canada
Janet McLaughlin
Anthropology, University of Toronto
PhD, 2009
For many years Canada has quietly rationalized importing temporary “low-skilled”
migrant labour through managed migration programs to appease industries desiring cheap
and flexible labour while avoiding extending citizenship rights to the workers. In an era
of international human rights and global competitive markets, the Canadian Seasonal
Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) is often hailed as a “model” and “win-win”
solution to migration and labour dilemmas, providing employers with a healthy, just-intime
labour force and workers with various protections such as local labour standards,
health care, and compensation.
Tracing migrant workers’ lives between Jamaica, Mexico and Canada (with a
focus on Ontario’s Niagara Region), this thesis assesses how their structural vulnerability
as non-citizens effectively excludes them from many of the rights and norms otherwise
expected in Canada. It analyzes how these exclusions are rationalized as permanent
“exceptions” to the normal legal, social and political order, and how these infringements
affect workers’ lives, rights, and health. Employing critical medical anthropology,
workers’ health concerns are used as a lens through which to understand and explore the
deeper “pathologies of power” and moral contradictions which underlie this system.
Particular areas of focus include workers’ occupational, sexual and reproductive, and
mental and emotional health, as well as an assessment of their access to health care and
compensation in Canada, Mexico and Jamaica.
Working amidst perilous and demanding conditions, in communities where they
remain socially and politically excluded, migrant workers in practice remain largely
unprotected and their entitlements hard to secure, an enduring indictment of their
exclusion from Canada’s “imagined community.” Yet the dynamics of this equation may
be changing in light of the recent rise in social and political movements, in which
citizenship and related rights have become subject to contestation and redefinition. In
analyzing the various dynamics which underlie transnational migration, limit or extend
migrants’ rights, and influence the health of migrants across borders, this thesis explores
crucial relationships between these themes. Further work is needed to measure these
ongoing changes, and to address the myriad health concerns of migrants as they live and
work across national borders.

Number of pages



University of Toronto

Academic department




Place published


File Attachments



Human Rights, Migrants, McLaughlin, mexico, migration

Economic sectors

Agriculture and horticulture workers

Content types

Policy analysis and Documented cases of abuse

Target groups

Policymakers, Journalists, Public awareness, Researchers, Unions, and NGOs/community groups/solidarity networks

Geographical focuses

Ontario, México, Federal, and Jamaica

Spheres of activity

Anthropology and Law