Thank you for having me and thank you for listening.
My name is Marcia Barret, cousin of Sheldon McKenzie, who was 39 years old when he was injured and died at 40.
Sheldon was a loving and devoted father of two teen daughters. He began to work as a migrant worker 13 years ago in Canada to care for his family. Sheldon loved to play soccer, loved music, and also coached the game.
Sheldon was injured on January 26, 2015. He died September 17, 2015, on his younger daughter's birthday.
It was during this time of Sheldon's injury and death that I became aware of the frustration and the difficult conditions that the migrant farm workers bore. On top of the injury and death that traumatized our family, the policies that are in place were a source of frustration that we endured during that time. Things we had to endure included the fear of repatriation, of his permit running out, lack of medical coverage, his family's...[Technical difficulty—Editor] Realizing that there are no proper policies in place to take care of these workers, who contribute greatly to the Canadian market, was quite a surprise.
The horrible conditions that they have to endure.... [Technical difficulty—Editor] ...we ever thought happened right here in Canada. Some of the horrible conditions they have to endure...this was during the time in Ontario when we were looking after Sheldon and had the opportunity to talk to other migrant workers, who live in constant fear. They are afraid that if they speak up about the working conditions that they have to endure, they will be repatriated; not only that, they would never be called back to work.
For some of them, this is the only way for them to take care of their families. They are hard-working men and women who came here to contribute to Canada and take care of their families. They're asked to work hours that.... I don't think we subject even a farm animal to those kinds of hours.
Oftentimes, as a family member who was present, I wondered whether, if there were proper policies in place, we would have suffered the loss of a loved one through a preventable injury and death.
As to training, was there... [Technical difficulty—Editor] That's a question we're left with all the time. The runners that he was wearing in a sweaty greenhouse, the plastic on the floor that is wet.... Is there a policy in place for proper training?
I've talked to men who have fallen off tractors and hurt themselves. They were repatriated with no health care. They're back in their countries with nothing. They were injured here, yet they are sent home with nothing.
These horrible conditions have to change. The history of the workers who are sent back is... [Technical difficulty—Editor] ...heading back to one country, Jamaica, talking to wives and girlfriends of past migrant farm workers who were injured here in Canada and sent back to Jamaica. They're sitting there, no longer able to work, and with no support.
It is hard to grasp, knowing the stand that Canada takes on these issues, knowing that these conditions and these things are allowed to happen.
Also, it was during this time that I found out that these workers are tied to one employer, and whether that employer is treating them well or not, they have to endure those horrible conditions, because if they complain...they cannot change; their permit is tied to one employer. They cannot change that permit; they can't go to another job. For them to continue to care for their families, they have to endure horrible abuse.
I've spoken to a group in British Columbia. They weren't allowed to go use the bathroom, because it takes time. It is conditions and things like this that I hear over and over again that have me speaking up today.
I cannot get my cousin back. His daughter will never celebrate his birthday ever again. The reason for my sitting here before this committee as a family member is that I need you, as fathers and brothers, to review the policies that are in place for migrant workers, the policies that force them to endure things nobody should have to endure.
The label I often hear to describe migrant workers is “low-skill”. Low skill does not mean low value or lower human rights.
I am not asking this committee to dismantle the program. The program has been a great benefit to my cousin's family and to many families who are here to work. I am asking the committee to get rid of some of the things in the program that cause these migrant workers not to have access to the proper health care, proper benefits, proper training, and proper working conditions that regular Canadians have.
I am asking this committee to get rid of things in the program that have caused the worst nine months of my life, living under the constant fear that my cousin, who was lying in a hospital bed with a head injury, was going to run out of health care and be sent back to his country, which does not have the facilities or the medical capability to take care of him.
The torture of watching him, a young man stronger than I am, lying there unable to do anything.... On top of that, the worst torture was sitting there every day wondering if he would be shipped out when I turned my back. I had that constant fear: will his medical be cut off? Will he be sent home?
The families are left alone. We have no resources. I had no resources to turn to in making sure that he got the proper medical care and that the medical benefits would not run out when the permit ran out. He was injured, and he should have the same opportunity as any Canadian to get proper medical care.
Again, I am stating emphatically that I am not asking the committee to get rid of the program. I am asking the committee to review the program and the actions to protect the migrant workers and their families.