TORONTO — Each summer for the past five years, Aaron has traveled from his home in Mexico to Canada as one of the tens of thousands of temporary foreign workers who seed, tend and harvest the crops that keep the country fed. This year's journey was unique.
Flights were limited. There were temperature screenings and questionnaires before he took off and after he landed. On arriving in British Columbia this month, he was checked into a hotel for a 14-day quarantine.
“I trust that everything will be fine,” said Aaron, a 31-year-old husband and father from Guanajuato state who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
But in this year of the novel coronavirus, the precautions have not kept all of Canada’s migrant farmworkers safe. At least 600 have contracted the coronavirus, and at least two, both Mexicans, have died.
Mexico, which provides nearly half of Canada’s migrant farmworkers, has become so concerned that officials said this week they’re hitting the “pause button” on plans to send up to 5,000 more to Canada until they’re satisfied the conditions that led to the deaths of Bonifacio Eugenio Romero, 31, and Rogelio Muñoz Santos, 24, will be rectified — threatening a labor crunch for Canada’s already squeezed agricultural sector.
“For us, it was only responsible to halt the coming of further workers until we have this clarity,” said Juan José Gómez Camacho, Mexico’s ambassador to Canada.
Mary Robinson, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, said the loss of these workers would be “incredibly unfortunate” and create “greater uncertainty, not only impacting this year’s harvest but next year’s cropping plans.”
The pandemic has highlighted Canada’s dependence on the 60,000 temporary foreign workers who arrive each year from countries such as Mexico and Jamaica as part of a federal government program, and without whom hundreds of thousands of tons of blueberries, asparagus stalks and grapes would wither on the vine.
They’re so vital that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared them essential workers, exempt from the restrictions that have shut the borders to most foreigners. They must quarantine for 14 days; Trudeau gave employers $37 million to cover those costs.
Officials have stressed that the migrant workers did not bring the virus to Canada, but acquired it after the mandatory quarantine. In Windsor-Essex, outbreaks at farms are one reason provincial officials say the region cannot advance to next stage of reopening.
“They came here, they self-isolated for two weeks and they picked it up since they’ve been here,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said this week. “I don’t want any finger-pointing at these hard-working migrant workers.”
Gómez Camacho, the Mexican ambassador, said he is having “very fluid conversations” with Canadian officials: “We have to move fast.” Employment and Social Development Canada, the country’s labor ministry, said it takes his concerns “very seriously.”
It’s unclear how broad the Mexican pause is. Oscar Mora, a spokesman for the Mexican Embassy in Canada, called it a “general measure.” But a spokesman for Mexico’s labor ministry said it applies only to farms that have had outbreaks and “do not have a strategy for the protection and care of workers.”
“Workers who would have traveled to a farm where there is a health problem will be reassigned and will not lose the possibility of traveling to Canada and having an employment contract,” the spokesman said. He said the 26,400 Mexican workers who contracted with farms in Canada last year sent home remittances of nearly $250 million.
Rodrigo Tovar Esquivel, a coordinator for the Democratic Peasant Union in the Mexican state of Hidalgo, said the Mexican government has taken away support programs for farmers, pushing workers to seek opportunities elsewhere.
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Come on Canada and Mexico, work this thing out fast.
So lots of finger-pointing, but 600 does seem to be a significant number of case found in a particular group of people, I wonder if their housing is overcrowded and "carriers" reluctant to report sick for the need of the pay etc.
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Mexican Ambassador to Canada just on CBC News today and stated that the program has been re-instated.
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Excellent!!! Viva Mexico!!
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