Ontario farm pleads guilty to death of worker from COVID-19, fined over $125,000
Compliance & Enforcement Health & Safety Legislation COVID-19 farm safety farm workers Workplace Death
Scotlynn SweetPac Growers Inc., one of Canada’s largest employers of migrant farmworkers located in Vittoria, ON, pleaded guilty for the death of its worker from COVID-19 and agreed to pay a fine of $125,000 and 25% surcharge.
A long-winded legal battle
The farm group, along with its owner Scott Biddle, had faced 20 charges under Ontario’s occupational health and safety laws after 200 employees got infected with COVID-19 in the workplace, and employee Juan Lopez Chaparro succumbing to the virus. The outbreak happened in May and June of 2020, with charges from Ontario’s Ministry of Labour laid out in Sept. 2021.
Migrant farmworker Gabriel Flores became the whistleblower for the poor conditions employees of Scotlynn were under in, exposing labour exploitation and substandard housing provisions of workers to the media. While he was fired from his job at Scotlynn, Flores won the historic case against the farm company for illegal reprisals at the Labour Relations Board. He was awarded $25,000 in damages.
A cry for equal rights
Syed Hussan, Executive Director of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, said that the court decision is but a mere “slap to the wrist” of the multi-million-dollar company and that justice was not served.
“Canada has failed to protect the migrant workers who fed us and took care of us during the pandemic. The only way to establish fairness is to support equal rights for migrants by granting permanent residency so that they can defend themselves against abusive employers. Instead, Canada has made it easier for employers to hire more precarious, temporary migrants,” said Hussan.
The organization calls for federal-level changes to protect migrant workers, which is beyond better communal bunkhouses for migrant workers.