The Attorney General of Canada faces a half-billion dollar class action filed by two migrant farm workers who say their Charter rights were violated under the Seasonal Agriculture Workers Program and the Temporary Foreign Workers Program.
Toronto lawyer Louis Century of the law firm Goldblatt Partners LLP, along with Koskie Minsky LLP and Shane Martinez filed a Statement of Claim on behalf of Kevin Palmer, a Jamaican who worked at Amco, and former Tilray worker Andrel Peters of Grenada last month. The action alleges the federal government violated their liberty, security, and equality rights.
Palmer said he first arrived in Canada in April 2014 on an eight-month contract and worked for Amco for six years. The father of two worked with chemicals, and while safety equipment was available, he didn't receive training on how to use it. He continues to worry exposure to those chemicals has hurt his health.
Amco terminated Palmer's employment in October 2019. The company allegedly posted a notice in the workplace. He said Amco never paid him for working overtime, and although he paid into Employment Insurance, he was denied access to the program.
The action alleges the Canadian government has received $475-million in EI contributions from foreign agricultural workers over the past 15 years.
Peters is also concerned about his health after working with chemicals at a marijuana grow operation. He said he stayed in a bunkhouse where six workers shared a bedroom. During the pandemic, he was not allowed to leave the farm and didn't see his family for three years. In 2021, he finally returned to Grenada to visit his family for two weeks. The company called him during this vacation to say his employment was terminated. His belongings remain in Canada.
The suit alleges the Canadian government knew the programs were racist and restricted the freedom of Black and Indo-Caribbean workers in the 1960s and has admitted their harm in recent years. The House of Commons Standing Committee on the TFWP in 2016 recommended eliminating employer-specific work permits, while the Supreme Court of Canada acknowledged farm workers have no recourse to protect themselves from predatory and abusive employers by withdrawing labour and seeking work elsewhere. Even the Open Work Permit for Vulnerable Workers policy doesn't alleviate the concerns because workers can only leave after the abuse has taken place.
The action states that European workers were never vulnerable to the same abuses because their work permits were not tied to specific companies.
Both men are seeking $500-million on behalf of former and current temporary foreign workers who had permits under the SAWP and TFWP going back to 2008.