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Migrant workers continue to call for change after death of Jamaican worker at Ontario farm

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Migrant workers are calling on the Canadian government to provide more rights and safety for them in the wake of the death of a Jamaican man who was working at a farm in southern Ontario last week.

On Aug. 14, the Ontario Ministry of Labour says it was notified of a death at a farm in Nortfolk County, saying in a statement that a temporary foreign worker was “fatally injured while operating farm equipment.”

Jamaica’s Ministry of Labour confirmed the worker’s identity as 57-year-old Garvin Yapp, of Jamaica, in a news release on Aug. 16.

The cause of the incident which led to Yapp’s death is unknown.

The Ontario Ministry Of Labour has started an investigation into the incident.

According to the Jamaican ministry, Yapp participated in its Farm Work Programme in Canada.

“Yapp, who hails from Tangle River District in St James, is a 35 year veteran of the programme, and was held in such high esteem that his employer would vacation at Yapp’s home on his visits to Jamaica,” reads the statement.

Yapp’s family has been offered psycho-social and other support, the Jamaican ministry wrote.

His employer, confirmed by CTV News Kitchener as the VanBerlo family, said in a statement that “they lost a person they considered a member of their family.”

“Their relationship with Garvin was forged over 34 years of employment at their family farm. Accordingly, they are devastated by his death,” the statement provided by their lawyer reads.

Their lawyer said the family has cooperated fully with the investigation.

Just days before Yapp’s death, members of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC) wrote a letter to Jamaica’s Minister of Labour, Karl Samuda, saying that they are facing “systemic racism and seismic exploitation.”

“...They are facing conditions where they are facing physical abuse, verbal abuse, that their property is being destroyed when they're not working fast enough, they’re being called mules,” Syed Hussan, executive director of MWAC told CP24 on Wednesday.

“They talk about how rats are eating their food, that they're going to work in wet clothes, and that they are being treated as we said in conditions that they call like a prison,” he added.

Hussan says the workers wrote the letter ahead of Samuda’s planned visit to farms in Canada this week because they feared that he would not be shown the reality of the situation.

Migrant workers are typically on temporary immigration statuses when they work in Canada and Hussan says that prevents the workers from being able to protect themselves.

“The migrant farm worker program is effectively a human rights catastrophe. Every day we hear about injuries, every month we hear about deaths. There have been three deaths that we know of just in the last week,” he said.

“So the people who grow our food, the people who keep us alive, are living in conditions of massive exploitation and abuse leading to death because of Canadian federal immigration laws,” he added.

Hussan says the workers are calling on the Jamaican ministry to push for the Canadian government to provide full and permanent immigration status, working rights, housing rights, and “the power to protect themselves.”

With files from CTV News Kitchener’s Krista Sharpe.

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