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

Poorest Migrants and Refugees In Grave Danger in Ontario

Toronto – Ontario’s decision to deny Legal Aid to migrants and refugees for immigration matters effectively puts thousands of lives in grave danger.

Until yesterday, Legal Aid certificates were only issued to migrant workers who earned below $11,632 and in some cases below $17,731 annually. That is, only the poorest were able to qualify. Today, they have been shut out. These changes will be disastrous for many, fatal for the rest.

As of this morning:

  • A migrant care worker who bravely left her abusive employer will not be able to access Legal Aid to secure her immigration status long enough to press charges against her employer;
  • A migrant farm worker who was injured on the job, and needs to stay in Canada for healthcare, would not be able to get Legal Aid to support them to secure their status;
  • A migrant agricultural worker who had faced labour exploitation even though they have been trafficked could not get the assistance of a lawyer from Legal Aid;
  • Refugees or migrants who face death or torture if deported would not be able to access Legal Aid to appeal their case or go to court;
  • Migrants or refugees who are being unfairly held in immigration prison will not have access to a Legal Aid lawyer to help them to argue for their liberty.

and the list goes on.

Ontario’s cuts to the minimum wage, job protections, social assistance, housing support, mental health services have collectively  pushed many migrants and refugees in exploitative conditions to a breaking point. Now, by denying them Legal Aid, Ontario has taken away their ability to even stay in the country to fight for basic rights.

The Migrant Workers Alliance for Change will do everything in our power to support the self-organization of migrant workers to access rights, dignity, services and status. We will unite our members along with all labour, community and environmental groups in Ontario under attack from recent cuts to push back against this avalanche of injustice.

Media Contact: Syed Hussan, 416-453-3632, Migrant Workers Alliance for Change

The Migrant Workers Alliance for Change includes individuals as well as Alliance for South Asian Aids Prevention, Asian Community Aids Services, Butterfly (Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support), Caregiver Connections Education and Support Organization, Caregivers Action Centre, Durham Region Migrant Solidarity Network, FCJ Refugee House, Fuerza Puwersa, GABRIELA Ontario, IAVGO Community Legal Clinic, Income Security Advocacy Centre, Justice for Migrant Workers, Migrante Ontario, No One Is Illegal – Toronto, Northumberland Community Legal Centre, OCASI – Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, OHIP For All, PCLS Community Legal Clinic, SALCO Community Legal Clinic, Students Against Migrant Exploitation, UFCW, UNIFOR, Workers Action Centre and Workers United.

Ontario Leaders Debate: Time to take a stand on migrant workers

Media Contacts: Syed Hussan (416 453 3632,

Toronto — The Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC), Canada’s largest migrant worker advocacy coalition, is calling on Andrea Horwath, Tim Hudak, Mike Schreiner and Kathleen Wynne on the eve of the leaders’ debate to outline their vision for migrant worker rights in Ontario. Though Ontario has the largest number of migrant workers in Canada, there has been no mention of them in the political campaigns of the three leading parties despite national attention in the last few weeks. MWAC has sent questions to the leaders of the parties and is awaiting their response.

“Migrant workers are not inherently vulnerable, its provincial laws that exclude us from basic protections that make us so,” insists Liza  Draman, a migrant worker in Toronto. “Many migrant workers are women and racialized people who are being denied immigration status by the Federal Government. Ontario must step up. Ontario’s future government must commit to sitting down with migrant workers and update labour laws and other legislation.”

Continue reading “Ontario Leaders Debate: Time to take a stand on migrant workers”

Recruitment Fees Banned for All Migrant Workers; Comprehensive Changes Still Needed

TORONTO, ONTARIO–(Marketwired – Dec. 4, 2013) – Banning recruitment fees for all migrant workers; removing the arbitrary monetary cap on reclaiming unpaid wages and tougher penalties for employment standards violations means that migrant workers gain a few more protections today, but comprehensive changes are still needed says the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC), Canada’s largest migrant worker advocacy coalition.

“After migrant workers exposed abuses by recruiters in 2009, we won protections for live-in caregivers but other migrant workers were unnecessarily excluded,” explains Liza Draman, spokesperson for the Caregivers Action Centre, member organization of MWAC. “Today after four years of migrant workers speaking out about their experiences, recruitment fees have finally been banned for all migrant workers.”

“Unfortunately over two-thirds of the caregivers we surveyed after the law came into effect in 2009 still paid fees,” adds Draman. “That’s because these protections rely on complaints and not proactive enforcement. For there to be meaningful protections, Ontario must follow provinces like Manitoba and implement employer and recruiter registration, licensing and regulation including joint and several financial liability.”

“I paid $1500 in Honduras to come work here in Canada. Here I worked in an unsafe job at a mushroom farm for a year to be able to pay back that debt,” stated Juan Miguel, a temporary foreign worker leader with Justicia for Migrant Workers, member organization of the MWAC. “On top of that, my employer regularly stole my wages and I couldn’t file a claim with the Ministry or I would have been fired and sent back home. I had to wait until I finished my contract, went home and came back with another employer but by then I had exceeded the current 6 month limit on claims. Today’s changes are an important step, but migrant workers need much stronger protections to ensure we have equal rights on the job.”

“Getting rid of the unfair $10,000 limit for employment standards claims and giving workers 2 years to file claims is a significant victory for Ontario workers, especially migrant workers” says Senthil Thevar, a former migrant worker and a spokesperson of MWAC member organization Workers Action Centre who is owed thousands of dollars in unpaid wages. “If these laws had existed a few years ago, I could have claimed the thousands of dollars of my unpaid wages immediately rather than being forced to go to court.”

“Migrant workers are not inherently vulnerable, its provincial laws that exclude us from basic protections that make us so,” insists Draman. “Many migrant workers are women and racialized people who are being denied immigration status by the Federal Government. Ontario must step up. We are urging Ontario’s government to sit down with migrant workers and update labour laws and other legislation. It is high time that migrant worker achieve the same protections and benefits as other Ontarians.”

Kyla Hernandez, a Filipino migrant worker who paid $5,000 to work in a vegetable packaging company in Windsor, ON, and spoke out against recruitment fees in 2008 adds, “Today’s labour reforms are a result of the advocacy efforts of migrant workers who took to the streets and held politicians accountable for the 19th century working and living conditions that we face in 21st century Ontario. However this victory is bittersweet. Many of our friends who fought for this have been terminated or deported for standing up for their rights. They will not enjoy the fruits of their labour. We owe it to them to continue the struggle and ensure that we are no longer treated as second class citizens.”


The Migrant Workers Alliance for Change includes Alliance of South Asian Aid Prevention, Asian Community Aids Services, Caregivers Action Centre, Industrial Accident Victims’ Group of Ontario, Justicia for Migrant Workers, KAIROS, Legal Aid Windsor, Migrante Ontario, No One Is Illegal – Toronto, Parkdale Community Legal Services, Social Planning Toronto, Unifor, United Food and Commercial Workers and the Workers’ Action Centre.

Media Liaison
Migrant Workers Alliance for Change
Syed Hussan, Coordinator
416 453 3632