Toronto, July 30, 2020 — Migrant farmworker, Luis Gabriel Flores Flores, who was fired for speaking to journalists after testing positive for COVID-19, calls on the Minister of Immigration Marco Mendicino today to demand immigration status for all.
Reading from a letter he had written, Mr Flores said, “What happened to me is what happens to migrants when we try to defend their rights. We have been subjected to a system of temporary immigration where if we stand up for ourselves, we are deported. Today, I am here to say to you that I am not afraid. That I deserve dignity. That all of us deserve dignity. That is why we need permanent resident status now, so workers can have the power to protect ourselves. Our health, our well-being, our families, and our lives depend on it.” See Mr Flores’ full letter to the Minister of Immigration here.
Mr Flores first came to Canada in 2014, and is a father of 2 children from Mexico. In 2020, he came to work at Scotlynn Farms. He tested positive for COVID-19 and was quarantined. During that time he spoke to journalists about the poor living conditions and mistreatment at Scotlynn Farms. On June 20th, Juan López Chaparro, who also worked at Scotlynn farm and lived with Mr Flores, died from COVID-19. The following day, Mr Flores was fired by Mr Robert Biddle Jr., founder of Scotlynn Farms.
“For years, we have called on the federal government to stop tipping the scales against migrant workers, to stop giving employers complete control over workers’ lives. All migrants must have the power to protect themselves, to speak up, to leave abusive and dangerous situations, and that means full immigration status for all is essential,” says Syed Hussan, Executive Director of Migrant Workers Alliance for Change. “The federal government needs to send a signal to migrant and undocumented people across the country today that what happened to Mr Flores will not be tolerated, and that migrants who speak out will be protected.”
Over 1,100 migrant farmworkers in Ontario have been infected with COVID-19 because of their housing and working conditions. One in 23 people (over 1.6 million people) in Canada are migrants, refugees, or undocumented. They are unable to access essential services, assert basic rights or access emergency support. Employer reprisals against them are common.
Over 10,000 people have signed a petition calling for permanent resident status for all and other protections for migrants: https://migrantrights.ca/covid19/. A visual petition of over 200 migrant workers calling for status was recently posted on Prime Minister Trudeau’s office: https://twitter.com/MWACCanada/status/1284122949549785093.
Timeline of Reprisals Against Mr Flores
- Mr Flores came to Canada on April 18, 2020, and was in quarantine for two weeks at a hotel.
- He started work at Scotlynn Farms in Norfolk, Ontario, where housing and working conditions were very poor. It was impossible for workers to physically distance, workers had no Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and they were not allowed to rest.
- A couple of weeks later several of Mr Flores’s colleagues started showing COVID-19 symptoms. Mr Flores and others repeatedly requested medical attention for them.
- They were told by supervisors that information had been shared with management but no medical attention was provided and no testing was done.
- Eventually workers got so sick, that one of Mr Flores’s colleagues called a contact off the farm to send an ambulance.
- As a result, testing finally occurred at the end of May and nearly 200 workers at the farm tested positive, including Mr Flores.
- While in quarantine, Mr Flores shared the story of labour exploitation and sub-standard housing with Globe & Mail on June 10, 2020 and Toronto Star on June 13, 2020 in tandem with a report released by the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC). He was one of several workers who spoke out. The press conference of the report received coverage on CTV, Global, CBC, Toronto Star, Globe and Mail and many other outlets.
- The report is accessible at www.MigrantWorkersAlliance.org/UnheededWarnings
- At 11pm on June 20, 2020, Mr Flores and other farmworkers were informed that his roommate Mr Juan Lopez Chaparro had died of COVID-19.
- Mr Flores spoke up at that time to supervisors, demanding an explanation from the employer and that the farm take responsibility for what happened.
- At 11:00 a.m. on June 21, 2020, Mr. Robert Biddle Jr., founder of Scotlynn Farms, arrived at Mr. Flores’ bunkhouse apartment unit. Mr Biddle showed Mr Flores an image of a video from a press conference by MWAC which featured Mr Flores’ colleague. He told Mr Flores that he would be sent back to Mexico first thing the next morning. Mr Flores insisted that he was not the person in the video. See Mr Biddle’s photo here.
- Mr Biddle left and a foreman reiterated the employer’s decision, and informed Mr Flores that the employer was looking for three other workers they suspected of speaking to the press.
- Mr Flores left the farm, and has been housed by a supporter in coordination with Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.
- On July 30, 2020, Mr Flores filed an anti-reprisals claim to the Ontario Ministry of Labour for $40,401.35 (the maximum possible under existing laws), and visited the office of Federal Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino to call for full and permanent immigration status for all.
- Mr Flores remains in Canada, on a tied work permit that only allows him to work for Scotlynn, which is set to expire on November 30th. He has no permanent housing, or permanent income and is concerned about how he will support his family back home.