No justice yet as first charges laid after deadly COVID outbreak

Migrant Workers Alliance for Change demands full and permanent immigration status for all as first ever pandemic charges laid against migrant farmworker employer in Canada

Toronto, September 27, 2021 – Ontario’s Ministry of Labour has laid 20 charges against Scotlynn SweetPac and owner Scott Biddle following last year’s outbreak where 199 workers tested positive for COVID-19, and Juan Lopez Chaparro died. This is the first time charges have been known to be laid for a COVID outbreak, despite thousands of migrant farmworker being infected across the country, and comes only after workers on the farms bravely spoke out and faced reprisals. With over a year since the outbreak, working and living conditions at Scotlynn and farms across Canada remain the same, and migrants continue to be denied rights because they do not have permanent immigration status.

The outbreak at Scotlynn Farms began in May 2020. One of the workers who fell sick at that time is Gabriel Flores. While in quarantine after COVID-19, Mr. Flores spoke about labour exploitation and substandard housing with the Globe & Mail and Toronto Star. He shared details of workers being denied testing despite being sick. One of Mr. Flores’ colleagues called a contact off the farm to send an ambulance when one worker was so ill he was unable to get out of bed. As a result of that ambulance call, 5 workers were hospitalized and testing was finally done at the end of May. A few days after speaking to the media, Mr Flores was fired. 

Responding to the news of charges being laid against Scotlynn, Mr Flores said, “These charges are not enough. There needs to be systemic changes to the laws to make sure workers can safely defend themselves against bad employers. That change begins with permanent status on arrival for all, so that migrants can access the same rights, protections and essential services as anyone else.” 

In November 2020, Mr. Flores won his historic case against Scotlynn for illegal reprisals at the Ontario Labour Relations Board (see details here). 

Mr. Chaparro’s widow, Agustina Galindo Segundo, agrees with Mr Flores. “Migrant workers deserve more attention, to not be forgotten, to work in decent conditions and know they will be reunited with their families,” she says.

Ad-hoc and one-off charges against bad employers is not enough. Without permanent resident status, 1.6 million people (1 in 23 residents) will continue to be denied access to the same rights that protect others in Canada, many will die. While Canada recovers from COVID-19, the migrants who grow food, care for loved ones and provide essential services to our communities during the pandemic continue to be left behind.

In his last government, PM Trudeau promised to ‘do better by migrant workers’. It is time for this new government to act, once and for all, and do the only thing that will prevent these tragedies – and that is ensure full and permanent immigration status for all immediately”, says Karen Cocq of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.

Read court documents about charges against Scotlynn here.
Read more in the Toronto Star here.

Media Contact:
Karen Cocq