Good news on DNA class action certification

Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW) applauds the work of Goldblatt Partners LLP in achieving certification of the Granger case as a class action.

On Thursday July 9th, 2020 the Superior Court of Justice for Ontario ruled that the class action can proceed to a hearing on its merits. In October and November 2013, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) conducted a DNA sweep targeting Caribbean migrant farm workers while searching for a suspect involved in a criminal investigation. The class action proceedings were initiated by migrant worker Mickey Granger regarding the permanent retention of his DNA and that of approximately 100 other migrant workers involved in the DNA sweep.

You can read more about the background info for this case here.

Instead of focusing their search on the specific suspect description, the OPP engaged in an extremely broad DNA sweep that included racialized migrant workers who clearly did not match the suspect profile. DNA samples were taken from approximately 100 Indo and Afro-Caribbean men whose ages ranged from 21 to 61, whose heights ranged from 5’0” to 6’5”, and whose body sizes ranged between 130 lbs to 310 lbs. Other identifying features (e.g. hair style) were also disregarded. Workers were targeted even though they did not fit the suspect description. A human rights complaint was filed for 54 migrant workers regarding how the DNA was collected by the OPP.

“This is a significant advance on behalf of the migrant farmworkers who were impacted by the OPP’s DNA sweep. J4MW will continue to advocate on behalf of 54 of these individuals in a concurrent proceeding at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) to ensure that the racial discrimination underlying this case is appropriately addressed,” says Justicia for Migrant Workers activist and lawyer Shane Martinez, who is representing the workers in the HRTO proceedings.

In an era of outcry over racist and racialized policing, J4MW will continue to fight against injustices that occur to migrant workers in rural communities. The lack of accountability and oversight are not only issues of concern in urban settings, but racial injustice is inherent to the structures that enable migrant workers to be employed in rural communities across Canada.

“J4MW will fight anywhere and everywhere that racialized policing is used to specifically target racialized working class communities,” says Gabriel Allahdua. “Whether it’s fought in the streets or the courts, J4MW continues to strongly condemn the practice of DNA sweeps, the invasive collection and retention practices and how it’s used to specifically target Black, Indigenous, Racialized and working class communities.”

The OPP targeted the migrant worker community of Bayham, Ontario because of their precarious immigration status. They also believed that no one would hold them accountable for their actions. They were wrong! No more DNA sweeps, End Racial profiling, end racist policing and end police brutality!

Four ways you can take action in support of farm workers’ demands for dignity

Remember that video we shared of twelve workers crammed into a bunkhouse separated by flimsy cardboard? Here’s the backstory — and four ways you can take action in support of workers’ demands for dignity.

Aphria Inc., Canada’s cannabis powerhouse, recently claimed that they stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement:

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But this statement of solidarity appears to conflict with concerns raised by migrant agricultural workers employed at their facility, and through their choice of companies to partner with.

According to workers, most of those employed in Aphria’s greenhouse are migrants employed under Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program, which allows employers to hire predominantly Latinx and Black workers from the global south.

Greenhouse workers at Aphria have shared the following:

  • While non-greenhouse workers received an additional dollar of pay per hour during the pandemic, greenhouse workers are excluded from this premium.
  • Workers have complained about health & safety concerns in the workplace related to COVID-19, such as an inability to physically distance in communal spaces (i.e. the lunch room).

Furthermore, Aphria has a partnership with Double Diamond Produce. In 2013 Double Diamond was found to be in violation of Ontario’s Human Rights Code for racial discrimination against Adrian Monrose, a migrant farm worker from St. Lucia who identifies as Afro-Caribbean. The tribunal found that an owner and supervisor at Double Diamond subjected Monrose and his co-workers to racial slurs, and then fired him and repatriated him to St. Lucia when he complained about the treatment. In a landmark decision the Tribunal awarded order Double Diamond to pay him over $23,000 as human rights damages and lost wages. It also ordered the company to institute a human rights policy, and required all supervisors at Double Diamond to complete human rights training. The decision can be read here.

Recently another brave migrant farm worker exposed the housing conditions at Double Diamond, as seen in a widely-shared video. Workers are alleging that the company did not implement adequate measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.

These kinds of conditions, where workers have no reasonable opportunity to physically distance, are why hundreds of migrant workers on other farms have gotten sick with COVID-19. To date two migrant workers have tragically died.

The workers at Double Diamond and Aphria demand:

  • Access to Personal Protective Equipment upon request;
  • Sanitizing of the workplace and living quarters multiple times a day;
  • Dignified and safe living conditions, including ample space for physical distancing;
  • Collaboration with workers in developing a rigorous COVID-19 plan;
  • Immediate isolation of workers suspected of having COVID-19;
  • Hazard pay for all workers, retroactive to the start of the State of Emergency; and
  • Commitments by the employers to ensure that no reprisals are taken against workers who exercise their rights in speaking out for equitable and safe workplaces.

TAKE ACTION!

Justicia for Migrant Workers is asking you to show your support for workers through the following four actions:

ACTION 1

Phone 1-844-427-4742, email info@aphria.com and irwin.simon@aphria.com, and tweet Aphria (@aphriainc) to demand that Aphria:

  • Meet with workers and provide them with a safe route to voice their concerns (anonymously if necessary);
  • Give all workers employed during the pandemic a retroactive dollar increase as hazard pay;
  • End and prevent workplace practices that put workers’ health and safety at risk;
  • Explain: How does Aphria reconcile its purported commitment to Black Lives Matter with its business arrangement involving Double Diamond?
  • Provide safe and dignified accommodations for all migrant workers employed at Aphria, and require the same of your business partners.

Sample script:

It has come to our attention that your corporation recently declared your solidarity with the Black Lives Matters movement. We are concerned about your commitment to the fight against racial injustice while greenhouse workers at your workplace allege that they were recently denied a COVID-19 pay increase. Workers have also raised concerns regarding occupational health and safety issues both in the workplace and in their living conditions. 

We are showing solidarity today by demanding that all greenhouse workers retroactively receive the wage increase provided to other workers employed at Aphria. Furthermore it’s critical that you meet with the workers to address their concerns regarding working and living conditions, and describe what steps you will take to protect workers from COVID-19. 

Finally, it has also come to our attention that Aphria and Double Diamond have a relationship in the cannabis industry. As you may have seen in a recent video, farm workers are exposing deplorable housing conditions at Double Diamond. Furthermore, Double Diamond was found to have contravened the Ontario Human Rights Code when managers made racist slurs against Caribbean migrant farm workers. Migrant workers are demanding the following from Aphria:

  1. Meet with workers and provide them with a safe route to voice their concerns (anonymously if necessary);
  2. Give all workers employed during the pandemic a retroactive dollar increase as hazard pay;
  3. End and prevent workplace practices that put workers’ health and safety at risk;
  4. Explain: How does Aphria reconcile its purported commitment to Black Lives Matter with its business arrangement involving Double Diamond?
  5. Provide safe and dignified accommodations for all migrant workers employed at Aphria, and require the same of your business partners.

 

ACTION 2

Send a tweet to Ontario Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development, demanding they make and enforce mandatory standards to protect migrant workers and undertake to carry out frequent, unannounced, and proactive inspections of bunkhouses.

[Sample tweet: Migrant farmworkers across Ontario are getting sick because they can’t physically distance at work or in their bunkhouse. @montemcnaughton, why isn’t @ONlabour doing frequent, proactive, unannounced bunkhouse inspections? Workers need protections now!]

ACTION 3

Send a tweet to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and federal ministers demanding a wage boost and full permanent resident status now for migrant workers,

[Sample tweet: @justintrudeau @cquatro @marcomendicino @Mclaudebibeau Stop discriminating against #migrant workers! Why no essential pay or wage boost for #migrants? #statusnow for #migrantworkers ]

ACTION 4

Sign the petition at: https://harvestingfreedom.org/2020/05/07/petition-tell-the-ontario-government-farmworkers-need-urgent-protections/