NY Times slams Canada’s migrant farm worker scheme

Photo of Erika Zavala harvesting carrots on an organic farm in Cawston, British Columbia. Photo Credit Ruth Fremson of the NY Times.

Erika Zavala, 32, a seasonal worker from Mexico, weeding rows of plants in the organic carrot farm where she works near Cawston, British Columbia. Credit Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Migrant farm workers from BC and Ontario asserted their strength by sharing their struggles with an international audience. Today’s New York Times article by Dan Levin explains how Canada’s migrant farm worker scheme invites dangerous, unhealthy and exploitative conditions for migrant farm workers by its very design.

“This program is a form of apartheid,” said Chris Ramsaroop, an organizer with Justicia for Migrant Workers, a labor rights organization based in Ontario.

“Migrant workers are employed and live under a different set of legal rights than Canadians,” Mr. Ramsaroop added. “The very existence of temporary foreign worker programs enables the Canadian government to deny basic freedoms and protections as a result of their immigration status.”


Although they aren’t mentioned in the article, hats off to our friends at Radical Action with Migrants in Agriculture (especially Amy Cohen) for helping bring this piece to light.

This criticism by international media — which is underpinned by decades of research and advocacy — shows that justifications for Canada’s migrant farm worker program are wearing thin in the public eye.

We have until Jan 30th: Demand open work permits for all migrant workers

We have until January 30th! Demand open work permits for all migrant workers. Email the minister: migrantrights.caAmong all of the indignities low-wage migrant workers face, being ‘tied’ to one’s boss is among the worst.

Because of tied work permits, workers hired under low-wage streams of Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program (including the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program) are only permitted to work for a single employer at a single location. If low-wage migrant workers encounter an abusive employment relationship, if their job or housing makes them sick, or if a frost destroys the crop for which they were hired to harvest, then changing employers is often extremely difficult in practice.

We have a key opportunity to end the injustice of tied work permits. The federal government is scheduled to announce new policies for migrant workers on  January 30th. Please take action right now by emailing Employment Minister Patricia Hajdu and Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen at this link: http://migrantrights.ca/en/take-action/#email

If you’re on Twitter, you can also tweet at the Ministers here.

As evidenced by Gina Bahiwal’s recent victory, we know that organized grassroots power can make a difference in the struggle for migrant justice. Let’s ensure an end to tied work permits today.

Leveraging the success of cancelling Gina Bahiwal’s deportation order


Photo from Toronto Star: http://on.thestar.com/2jbm9KP

Many, many thanks again to everyone who phoned, emailed, tweeted at and met with MPs to stop Gina Bahiwal’s deportation. We are darn lucky that this champion for migrant justice will be staying (for a year, at least) in the place known as Canada. This example shows that when the conditions are right, organized grassroots power makes an enormous difference.

As Gina mentions in this new article published by the Toronto Star, the fight isn’t over. Let’s leverage this collective success by continuing to organize for broad-based changes to end the racial, economic and social injustices faced by migrant workers writ large. This includes ongoing campaigns for permanent status on arrival for all migrant workers in Canada.

URGENT: Two actions in solidarity with migrant activist Gina Bahiwal

Gina Bahiwal, a migrant worker who has been a crucial advocate for migrant and women’s rights in Canada is facing deportation on January 15th at 9:30pm. Here are two ways you can show solidarity with Gina:

  1. Donate to help cover the cost of her legal fees (please share this request letter for donations). Donate here via secure PayPal and let us know your donation is for Gina’s legal defence.
  2. Email Minister Ralph Goodale to ask him to stop the deportation (CC Minister Ahmed Hussen, Parliamentary Secretary Arif Virani, and MP Tracey Ramsey, and Justice for Migrant Workers). We’ve included a template letter below.
Drawing of Gina Bahiwal during the Justice for Migrant Workers Harvesting Freedom campaign

Artwork: Tzazná

Gina (Gregorgina) Bahiwal came to Canada from the Philippines in 2008 under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and has worked in vegetable-packing, housekeeping, and fast food. Despite being married, she is now facing deportation.

Throughout her time in Canada, Gina has been a bedrock for justice in the community. This has included advocating tirelessly for the rights of migrant workers like her, particularly among migrant women, providing mutual aid and services to other workers, and exposing the exploitative practices of recruiters. Gina has appeared in the documentary The End of Immigration, helped organize the J4MW Pilgrimage to Freedom in 2011, gave a deputation on migrant rights to the federal HUMA Standing Committee, and spoke at a press conference on Parliament Hill for the launch of the 2016 J4MW Harvesting Freedom campaign.

Deporting Gina would incur a huge loss to the communities she has been part of for the past nine years.


The Honourable Ralph Goodale
Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
The Honourable Ahmed Hussen
Member of Parliament (York-South Weston)
Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship

The Honourable Arif Virani
Member of Parliament (Parkdale-High Park)
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship

The Honourable Tracey Ramsey
Member of Parliament (Essex)

Justice for Migrant Workers

Dear Minister Goodale,

We are writing to express concern about the removal of Gina Bahiwal, which has been scheduled for January 15th, 2017 at 9:30pm. She is married and has filed a Humanitarian and Compassionate application. Gina’s removal from Canada will impact not only her and her family, but a broad network of community members and Canadian society as a whole would lose an important and strong advocate on migrant rights issues in this country.

Gina came Canada from the Philippines in 2008 under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) and has worked in vegetable packing, housekeeping, and fast food. Throughout her time in Canada, Gina has been a bedrock for justice in communities throughout Canada. This has included advocating tirelessly for the rights of migrant workers like her, particularly among migrant women. She has volunteered her time providing mutual aid and services to other workers, and has engaged in pivotal work exposing the exploitative practices of recruiters. Gina has appeared in the documentary The End of Immigration, helped organize the Justice for Migrant Workers (J4MW) Pilgrimage to Freedom in 2011, gave a deputation on migrant rights to the HUMA Standing Committee, and was a key participant in the 2016 J4MW Harvesting Freedom campaign calling for permanent residency for farm workers and all temporary workers in Canada. Gina clearly made a significant impact on the HUMA temporary foreign worker program review. In the final report, Gina’s testimony is singled out for providing essential evidence about the conditions of female migrant workers in Canada, and the authors quote at length Gina’s testimony at pages 56 and 58 of the Report:

Gina Bahiwal provided an important gendered lens in understanding the temporary foreign worker program and the particular vulnerability experienced by women:

Access to health care is a problem for migrant women and injured workers. Migrant women who get pregnant and fired from work do not have access to health care. Injured workers who are being sent home cannot access health care here in Canada. – Gina Bahiwal, Member of Coalition for Migrant Worker Rights Canada

The horrific reality of ignoring the medical needs of workers was highlighted by witnesses:

Women migrant workers who get pregnant while working here in Canada get fired, so they don’t have access to health care. One worker who I talked to last month lost her baby. She had to hide her tummy and put on a girdle so the employer would not see that she was pregnant, because she was afraid of being fired, and what happened is that she lost her baby. – Gina Bahiwal, Member of Coalition for Migrant Worker Rights Canada

Why is someone who has worked so hard to advocate for migrant workers, and migrant women in particular – someone your own government relied on to help improve the system for others – now being deported? Your government recently announced the removal of the “4-in-4-out” rule and in doing so, your government committed to developing pathways to permanent residency so that temporary workers can more fully contribute to Canada. Gina worked hard along with other migrant justice activists to help bring about this important result. She is a model of hard work, perseverance and service, and has already contributed greatly to Canada. Her deportation would create significant hardship for her family and for all of us who have gotten to know and respect Gina as a friend, fellow community member and ally in this work.

We also understand that Gina’s application for permanent residence is close to being finalized and do not understand why she cannot remain with her family and community while she awaits the completion of her immigration process. For all these reasons, we are asking you to intervene and cancel Gina’s removal from Canada, which is scheduled for January 15, 2017 at 9:30pm.

Thank you for considering our request. We look forward to your prompt response.


[Mailing address – so they know you are a real person]

Join the Caravan Grand Finale in Ottawa this weekend

Over the past month, we’ve brought the caravan to over 20 communities across Ontario. We’ve connected with more than 1000 migrant agricultural workers from Mexico, the Caribbean, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Guatemala and Peru. We’ve witnessed the will for political change across a surprising range of everyday people in Canada.

To get a taste of the impact Harvesting Freedom has had on the public conversation about migrant justice in Canada and internationally, check out some of the media coverage from the past month.

This weekend, we’re pumped for the caravan’s grand finale in Ottawa. Please join us in the caravan’s final push to demand STATUS NOW from the federal government.

  • Saturday, Oct 1: Migrant Dreams screening at One World Film Fest. Doors: 11:30am. Library and Archives Canada, 395 Wellington St., Ottawa. Tickets here.
  • Sunday, Oct 2: Flyering Ottawa Farmers markets. Email us for details: harvestingfreedomcampaign@gmail.com
  • Monday, Oct 3: CARAVAN BIG FINALE. It will happen from 12noon-1:30pm, 365 Laurier Ave West. This will include a demonstration in front of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to demand justice for the tens of thousands of farmworkers who have put food on Canadian tables for the last 50 years without any chance to lay roots in the country. RSVP on the Facebook event.

As we detail in this latest press release, in a 2014 open letter published by the Toronto Star, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged that in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, “Abuse is not rare. It is far too common, and it must end immediately.” He underscored Canada’s historical commitment to providing a path to citizenship for all those who come to Canada to work  and emphasized that Canada should not “follow the path of other countries who exploit large numbers of guest workers”. For 50 years, seasonal agricultural workers have been the bulwark of  agricultural food production, and yet they have no access to secure, permanent immigration status.

Justice for Migrant Workers is holding Prime Minister Trudeau to account and is demanding an end to this unjust and discriminatory policy.

Here are a few shots from our visit to Kingston earlier this week, where we had critical conversations with Queens University students about racism in Canada and worker resistance, and delivered migrant workers’ demands for status now to Liberal MP Mark Gerretsen.

Onward to Ottawa!


Register for the Caravan!

Hi Justicia supporters! If you are planning to join us for the caravan for any of the caravan stops below, please register here!

Harvesting Freedom Caravan Launches this weekend (UPDATED LOCATIONS AND DATES)!

We are READY to start the Historic Harvesting Freedom Caravan with a J4MW worker member General Meeting and Launch in Leamington, Ontario this Sept 4th! Leamington is significant in this struggle because is the self-proclaimed Tomato Capital of the country and it’s also the birthplace of this Farmworker Movement and of Justice For Migrant Workers. Yearly the town receives between 6 and 8 thousand migrant workers who pick our fruits and vegetables.

This Labour Day (Sept 5th), farmworkers, allies and giant Justice Vegetables will march in the Windsor Labour Day parade and will stay and talk to people at the Fogolar Furlan Club in the afternoon. Come support if you are in the Windsor area!

Our allies will also be marching in the Toronto Labour Day parade to make sure labour doesn’t forget about the real struggles that many racialized workers still face in this country.

Here are the updated dates and places we are hitting with the Caravan!

LEAMINGTON Sunday Sept 4
Workers general meeting and dinner in the birthplace of Justice For Migrant Workers.

WINDSOR Monday Sept 5- Tuesday Sept 6
Look for us in the marching in Windsor Labour Day Parade and afterwards in the Fogolar Furlan Club BBQ!

CHATHAM Wednesday Sept 7
Join the caravan for a discussion and screening of Migrant Dreams from 7-9 pm at UNIFOR Local 127, 405 Riverview Dr, Chatham.

BLENHEIM Thursday Sept 8
Event for J4MW farmworker members
*** Fundraiser for the Caravan in Toronto, check out the details here!

LONDON Friday Sep 9- Saturday Sept 10
For Friday Sept 9, there will be a dinner to receive the Caravan, details TBA.
On Saturday Sept 10, the Harvesting Freedom campaign will visit the farmers market, details TBA.
In the evening, the caravan will host a discussion, meal and screening of Migrant Dreams, details here.

TILLSONBURG Sunday Sept 11
Event for J4MW farmworker members

BRANTFORD Wednesday Sept 14
The caravan will host a community discussion from 2:30-4pm at the Wilfrid Laurier University (Brantford College) Room TBA

SIX NATIONS Wednesday Sept 14
The caravan will visit and have a gatherin with the Six Nations community.

LYNDEN Thursday Sept 15
Community dinner, film screening and discussion at Langford School House from 6-9 pm. The address is 1694 Colborne Street East.

SIMCOE Friday Sept 16
Event for J4MW farmworker members

WOODSTOCK Saturday Sept 17
The caravan will visit the local Farmers Market from 10am- 12pm at the Woodstock Fairgrounds, 875 Nellis Street, Woodstock

GUELPH Saturday Sept 17-19
On Sept 17 we have this event from 7-9 pm featuring Nandita Sharma and members of the Caravan!
On Sunday the 18th, the Caravan will honour the life and work of Kerry Preibisch in Guelph.
On Monday Sept 19 we will pay a community visit to the WSIB office at 9 am to demand justice for injured migrant farmworkers! They are located at 100 Stone Road West, Guelph.

Join us for an expo on the Farmworker Program. Details TBA

KITCHENER Tuesday Sept 20
The UNIFOR Aboriginal and Workers of Colour Committee will be hosting the Caravan for a community gathering. The event will take place from 5:30 pm at UNIFOR Local 1106 Union Hall, located at 1600 Wabanaki Drive, Kitchener.

ST CATHARINES Wednesday Sept 21
The Harvesting Freedom Caravan will be in Brock University watching documentary films Migrant Dreams and hosting a community discussion from 5-8 pm. We will be in room 258. Brock is at 1812 Sir Isaac Brock Way Street, St Catharines.

BEAMSVILLE Thursday Sept 22
Event with farmworkers from the Niagara region

HAMILTON Friday Sept 23- Sat Sept 24
On Saturday Sept 24 we will attend the Hamilton Farmers’ Market. wa! It will be at New Visions Church at 24 Main Street West from 7 pm to midnight.
On Saturday Sept 24 we will attend the Hamilton Farmers’ Market, details TBA.

Justicia is also hitting the Niagara Wine Festival to demand justice for migrant vineyard workers! Get in touch if you want to take part (harvestingfreedomcampaign@gmail)!

TORONTO Sunday Sept 25
Rise up and come out to the Harvesting Freedom Caravan action in Toronto while enjoying a pancake breakfast!
Later in the day join us for the Toronto screening of Migrant Dreams!
Help the Caravan close the day at Black Creek Community Farm event with food, hang outs and performances!

DURHAM Monday Sept 26
Join the Caravan from 6-8 pm for a community event and documentary showing of Migrant Dreams at the West Front Atrium of Trent University Durham Campus, located at 55 Thornton Road South, Oshawa, ON
There will also be a dinner for farmworkers.

COBOURG Tuesday Sept 27
The Harvesting Freedom Caravan will be marching through Cobourg at 3 pm, start up location TBA.
In the evening, we hope you can come to a community forum from 5:15- 6:30 pm at Horizons of Friendship at 50 Covert Street, Cobourg.
The campaign will also host a dinner and workshop for farmworkers later in the evening.

KINGSTON Wednesday Sept 28- Thurs Sept 29
On Wednesday, the Caravan will host a community conversation from 2:30-4 pm at Queens University as a part of the Cultural Studies Seminar Series, details TBA.
Thursday Sept 29 we will host another conversation from 1-2:30pm at Mackintosh-Corry Hall D214, Queens University as a part of the SNID series.
More details on the Kingston stop coming soon!

OTTAWA Oct 1-3
On Saturday Oct 1, the Harvesting Freedom will be part of the One World Film Festival, details TBA.
On Sunday Oct 2nd, save the date to be a part of THE CARAVAN BIG FINALE in downtown Ottawa, details to be announced really soon! Help us mark this historic 800km trip to the capital to demand Justice!
We will CLOSE the caravan and leave Ottawa on Oct 3rd, so stay tuned for those details!!!

Contact us at harvestingfreedomcampaign@gmail.com!

Migrant farmworkers asked Trudeau for Permanent Residency in Canada

‘Justice is 50 years overdue’, migrant farmworkers call for real change in 2016

WHAT: Media Briefing to launch historic ‘Harvesting Freedom’ caravan to Ottawa
WHEN: 10 am, Monday, January 25, 2016.
WHERE: Charles Lynch Room, Centre Block of Parliament, Ottawa
WHO: Justice for Migrant Workers (J4MW) is a grassroots advocacy group composed of migrant workers and allies, based in Toronto, Vancouver, and Mexico City

J4MW will held a press conference at 10 am in the Charles Lynch room in the Centre block of Parliament. Following the press conference, migrant workers visited the office of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to urge him to grant migrant farm workers Permanent Residence Status on Landing.