Fifty-four migrant farmworkers from Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica commence historic human rights hearing on racist policing practices

Poster with a worker holding a sign "Give Migrant Workers Justice"

TORONTO – On Monday, November 22, 2021, 54 migrant farm workers will be seeking justice from the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario in a historic and potentially precedent-setting case.

In October 2013, after a sexual assault that occurred near the community of Bayham, Ontario, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) conducted a DNA sweep to collect samples from approximately 95 migrant farmworkers employed in the region.

The OPP conducted its investigation with what appeared to be a total disregard for the detailed suspect description that it had obtained from the victim. DNA samples were taken from Indo- and Afro-Caribbean men from Jamaican and Trinidad. Their ages ranged from 22 to 68, their heights ranged from 5’2” to 6’6”, and their body sizes ranged between 110 lbs to 328 lbs. Other identifying features were also disregarded. Workers were targeted solely on the basis of their skin colour and their status as migrant farmworkers.

Fifty-four of the migrant farmworkers who were impacted came together to jointly file human rights applications with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. Starting at 10:00am on Monday the applications will finally be heard. The Applicants will argue that the DNA sweep and the manner in which it was conducted was racial discrimination that violated their rights under section 1 of Ontario’s Human Rights Code.

This is the first human rights case of its kind in Canada to examine allegations of systemic racial profiling and discrimination by the police towards migrant farmworkers. It is anticipated that it will expose not only the inherent vulnerabilities that workers are exposed to under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, but how those vulnerabilities were exploited by the police in their execution of the 2013 DNA sweep.

Zoom link to observe the proceedings: https://zoom.us/j/99671396600 

For interviews and more information, please contact:

  • Chris Ramsaroop (Justicia 4 Migrant Workers): Tel: 647-eight-34-4932 / E-mail: j4mw.on(at)gmail.com
  • Shane Martínez (Lawyer for the 54 Migrant Farmworkers): Tel: 647-seven-17-8111 / E-mail: shane(at)martinezlaw.ca

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!