Fine Issued in Death of Migrant Farm Worker
During the pandemic, one of the major issues that was exposed to Ontarians, especially those in the agriculture regions of the province like the riding of Essex, was the living and working conditions of migrant workers. As a result of the unsafe working and living conditions, agricultural migrant workers experienced high rates of COVID-19 infections at greenhouses and on farms. During the pandemic, migrant workers and others who work under the table in these agricultural industrial operations were essential in providing food both domestically and internationally, however their right to safe and healthy working conditions were not considered essential to the extent that the Ford government made a regulation permitting COVID-19 infected farm workers to continue working while infected! This, while everyone else was told to stay home and isolate when they developed symptoms. These unsafe conditions led to the deaths of migrant workers, including 55 year old Juan Lopez Chaparro, who worked at Scotlynn Growers in Simcoe, Ontario.
On June 6, the Provincial Offenses Court in Simcoe, Ontario imposed a fine of $125,000 on Scotlynn Growers for one count of failing to take all reasonable precautions to protect its workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite Chaparro’s death.
Scotlynn Growers pleaded guilty to the single charge, despite the fact that the company was originally charged in September 2021 with 20 offenses with another seven charges that were subsequently added. However, the Ministry of Labour dropped all other charges against the company and its owner Scott Biddle in a plea agreement struck between the Ministry of Labour and the company. The court could have awarded up to $1.5 million for this single charge.
Adding insult to injury, the $125,000 fine will be paid to the municipality of Simcoe and not the family of Juan Lopez Chaparro, the migrant worker from Mexico who died of COVID-19 as a result of Scotlynn Growers irresponsibility, for whom clearly the government continues to refuse to take responsibility.
Migrant Workers’ Alliance for Change denounced the fine as a “slap on the wrist” while “these kinds of exploitative working conditions remain common across the country because migrants can only come to Canada with precarious and vulnerable immigration status.”
While the company lawyers argued, and the court agreed, that the company was “grappling” with how to adapt to the early stages of the global pandemic, the reality is that long before COVID-19, between 2016 and 2018, Mexican authorities received 33 complaints about Scotlynn from their nationals working at this farm — the most made about any one Canadian farm during that period. These complaints related to pest infestations, overcrowding, and failure to receive timely medical attention.