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OHRC follow-up letter to the Town of Kingsville on housing for migrant workers

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August 30, 2022

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Mayor Nelson Santos
Members of Council
Town of Kingsville
2021 Division Road North
Kingsville ON N9Y 2Y9

Re: Housing for migrant workers

Dear Mayor Santos and Members of Council:

I am writing to follow up on the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s (OHRC) June 24, 2022, letter raising concerns about potentially discriminatory housing recommendations for migrant workers in Kingsville.

Following the OHRC’s letter, at a June 27, 2022, Council meeting, Council directed Kingsville administration to prepare draft Official Plan Amendments and draft Zoning By-Law Amendments according to revised recommendations to provide a framework for Boarding, Lodging and Rooming Houses (BLRHs) in the Kingsville community. Also, the OHRC understands that the Town held two public information sessions on August 4, 2022, and plans to host another session in September. 

Reviewing the draft Official Plan Amendments and draft Zoning By-Law Amendments, the OHRC recognizes the Town’s efforts to reduce discriminatory barriers to migrant workers living as full members of the Kingsville community by permitting BLRHs – of any size – to be established within its boundaries. These changes appear to address the potentially discriminatory “people zoning” that was identified in the OHRC’s earlier letter.

However, as set out in our June 24 letter, migrant workers are subject to extensive discrimination in their lives and work beyond “people zoning,” and Kingsville has an obligation under the Ontario Human Rights Code to ensure the existing vulnerable position of migrant workers is not further exacerbated by town policies or by-laws.

Accordingly, the OHRC continues to urge Council to use the opportunity of these amendments to take active steps to ensure that its official plan and by-laws are designed to improve and protect the living and working conditions of all migrant workers in Kingsville.

The best way to do this is to work directly with migrant workers and the organizations advocating for them.

 

Justicia for Migrant Workers’ submission

The OHRC understands that on August 4, 2022, Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW) made a submission to the Town on the draft Official Plan Amendments and draft Zoning By-Law Amendments. J4MW, a non-profit political collective of current and former migrant farmworkers, scholars, students and community organizers, advocates for systemic changes in Canada’s treatment of migrant agricultural workers.

In its submission, J4MW offers specific actions the Town could take to better realize workers’ rights, support social inclusion, implement effective enforcement and accountability and increase access to amenities, among others.

For example, J4MW calls on the Town to:

  • Create a mechanism to address the significant property standard concerns faced by migrant workers that would usually be addressed under the protections of the Residential Tenancies Act (which migrant workers are excluded from), such as pest control, heating/cooling, number of toilets and privacy
  • Include migrant workers at all stages of by-law development and implementation and make sure workers are free to speak about their concerns without fear of reprisal (for example, not in front of employers)
  • Include anti-reprisal mechanisms in the by-law as part of a broader enforcement structure to protect workers and ensure by-law effectiveness (for example, set up a process for anonymous complaints)
  • Include in the by-law penalties for violations and worker-informed methods of identifying by-law violations that do not compromise their employment
  • Strengthen the by-law language to prevent segregation of worker housing, even if technically in “residential” areas.

The OHRC supports the J4MW submission and encourages Council to consider the actions it contains.

Migrant workers are among the most vulnerable workers in Ontario, and we must continue to offer them the protections to which all workers and community members are entitled.

On August 14, 2022, 57-year-old Garvin Yapp, of Jamaica, died on a farm in Norfolk County while operating farm equipment. A few days before his death, members of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC) had written a letter to Karl Samuda, Jamaica’s Minister of Labour, ,asserting that migrant workers face “systematic slavery” while taking part in Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP).

On August 18, 2022, in Logan v Ontario (OPP), the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) found that the Ontario Provincial Police discriminated based on race, colour and place of origin when it conducted a DNA sweep of migrant workers in a sexual assault investigation in Elgin County, Ontario in 2013. The HRTO’s decision also recognized the broader discrimination faced by migrant workers and their precarious position working under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP), all within the larger context of anti-Black racism in society. The OHRC was an intervenor in the proceeding, supporting the migrant workers.

As Council moves forward in its review of the proposed draft Official Plan Amendments and draft Zoning By-Law Amendments, the OHRC urges Council to make decisions that are consistent with the Code and support the dignity and well-being of all community members.

The OHRC welcomes the opportunity to continue to work with the Town of Kingsville on this critical matter and is available if you or your team wish to contact us.

Sincerely,

Patricia DeGuire
Chief Commissioner

cc:      John Norton, CAO, Town of Kingsville
          OHRC Commissioners