Saturday 25 July 2020

Our Migrant Farm Workers

Edgar Sulla Puma cannot speak.  He can merely utter noises with various states of emotion which his caregivers must try to interpret.  Nine years ago, when he could speak, he spoke no English..  His caregivers only speak English.

 Edgar weighs 122 pounds. He cannot eat.. He gets food pumped intravenously into his stomach .There is a plug above his throat which gets removed regularly so that his lungs can get extra oxygen.  He has braces on both his legs but cannot put weight on them.  Rather, he spends his whole day being pushed around in a wheelchair.  He has an accordion type brace on his right arm in order to keep it an appropriate distance from the rest of his body.  He wears a bandage on his left hand which can be removed from time to time.  When it is removed he tries to grasp the hand of whoever is caring for him.

Edgar recently "celebrated" his thirty-fifth birthday.  He lives in the room next door to me at my retirement residence.  Needless to say he is, by far, our youngest resident. His mere being here helps keep me from feeling sorry for myself.

On February 6th, 2012 there was a horrible traffic accident just west of Wellesley, on the edge of Waterloo Region.  For reasons unknown, a transport truck went through a stop sign and smashed into a bus carrying twelve young migrant workers back to their residence after a full day's work on a southwestern Ontario farm.  The drivers of both vehicles and eleven of the twelve workers were killed instantly.  Curiously, nobody knew anything about the workers.  It took a few days to even find out their home country. All that was known was that they spoke Spanish. (I can't help but contrast that lack of interest with the immense and continued outpouring of real interest in the well-being of the Humboldt Broncos).

The twelfth passenger in the bus, the one who survived, was airlifted for medical care to Hamilton.  That passenger was Edgar.  His home country, and that of all his former colleagues, is Peru.

Canadians don't really care about the nearly 60,000 migrant farmworkers who come and tend the crops that feed us and the workers know it.  My friend, JoAnn Reitzel, sees them from time to time in the Waterdown area of Hamilton, when they come in from nearby farms.  She tries to make eye contact with them.  Invariably, they shyly look the other way.  They must think of themselves as inferior people, a necessary step toward accepting racist treatment.

Recently, we were compelled to pay attention to them when several of them turned out to have tested positive for the coronavirus.  Premier Doug Ford, who clearly couldn't care less about their well-being, exhorted them to come forward and get tested."  We'll even send buses to take you to get tested" he shouted in English at Queen's Park several hundred kilometres away.  He couldn't figure out why they would not come and get tested, even as they were frightened that somehow they would lose their jobs and be automatically sent home.  So then he said that they could just go ahead and work alongside each other even if they tested positive.

This is when the Windsor Essex County Health Unit had to step in and order those who tested positive away from work.

 Well, then who is going to pick our asparagus?  Surely, we wouldn't expect the farm corporation to pay them or look after their lodgings while they are sick, even if they got sick on the job!

That was last week's story.  Those who tested positive have been placed in various motels and hotels hotels in the Essex County area.  This week, the Windsor Star published an expose showing pictures of the very meagre amount of food these grown men were given to live on in the course of a day.  To quote the story with the pictures . "In  a small doggy bag take out box are a couple bites of grilled chicken, a modest scoop of plain rice and a few spoonfuls of dried broccoli and carrots.  Next to it on the floor, a small bottle of juice.  Left outside the motel room door, that's the meal awaiting one of the grown men among the migrant farmworkers placed in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19."

The next day,the Star published reactions from the heads of farm corporations who pointed out that it is not their job to feed the men, but rather that of the Red Cross.

What is wrong with this picture?  Why, in this plentiful country do we need to call in the Red Cross in order to feed people?  Why do the farm corporations feel no responsibility for the situation?

The Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program was started in 1966.  Workers from third world countries, almost always in this hemisphere, leave their families in the spring and work in Canada until the late fall.  Then they come again the next year.  For many of them this is their whole working life.  The money that they earn goes home to feed their families but many of them spend more than half of their lives in this country.

When I was a member of the Immigration and Refugee Board one such man appeared in front of me.  He was from Jamaica and had been coming to this country annually for about twenty years.  His claim to be a refugee was harmed by the fact that he was continually returning to his home country.  That is not a good thing to do if you want to convince me that you will be persecuted there.  We only have one life, however, and here was a good man, paying Canadian taxes and employment insurance.  I think I bent the law are little bit to let him in.  That being said, his case was not appealed.  I am not aware of anyone else who tried this route stay in the country

Many working couples who can afford it apply and have caregivers come for their children under a program called the Live-In Caregiver Program.  These people can come and stay for as many years as they are needed.. Unlike agricultural workers, they can often switch employers and they can eventually apply for permanent residence in Canada.

What is the difference?  I suspect that the difference is that particular Canadian citizens who often know how to tug at the levers of power, grow to know and love particular caregivers.  Therefore, they go to bat for them and probably speak to their Members of Parliament on their behalf.

Agricultural workers, on the other hand, don't get to know us personally. They pay Canadian taxes and employment insurance.  I think this is wrong.  I think that it breeds racism.  Further, these are good hard-working people, family people who could become good Canadian citizens.  This demographic  is more advantageous insofar as paying taxes is concerned than the aged nanny who has no family here  I would like to see the law changed to accommodate these farmworkers and to revert to the principal that everyone working in this country should have the right to do so legally and to eventually become a citizen..

As for Edgar, there are questions about him about which I don't know the answers.  The big one is who is paying for his residence here in Caroline Place coupled with round-the-clock personal care?  I suspect that there has been an insurance settlement.  It is the least that we could give him in the circumstances.

Sunday 5 July 2020

Let's not barter for the two Michaels

Recently, my friend Barbara Cook sent me a clipping from the Waterloo Regional Record of an opinion piece written by Tim Armstrong, recommending that Canada negotiate a prisoner exchange with China in which we would hand over Meng Wanzhou and they would give us two people, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.  His argument is supported by all kinds of important people, like John Manley, Alan Rock, and Eddie Goldenberg who have suddenly come forward in the last few weeks to point out that the Extradition Act provides the federal Cabinet with unfettered power over whether or not Ms. Meng can be extradited to the United States.

In the 1980s, I worked with Mr. Armstrong with regard to Ontario's position vis-à-vis the original free-trade agreement with United States.  I will not challenge his expertise on extradition law if he does not challenge mine.  I will not challenge his because I have no quarrel with his view in this regard.  When a request comes to us to extradite a person to another country it is, indeed, entirely a political decision as to whether or not we wish to place the request before one of our courts.  The court merely decides whether or not the accused person has the right to have the charge dismissed, not unlike the right of an accused in a criminal proceeding to have a charge dismissed at the end of a preliminary hearing.  If the court does not grant the accused that right, the matter goes back to the political decision-makers, once again, to decide whether or not the extradition proceeds.

When Ms Meng was arrested, the Prime Minister was asked whether or not he had prior knowledge of the event.  He indicated that he did.  I think we can assume from that that he was also given the legal opinion I have just expressed.  He had to decide which bully country he needed to appease, China or the United States.  In my view, he clearly made the right decision.  His current political problem arises from his insistence on drawing a red herring across the whole issue by saying that he believes in "the rule of law" and is merely following it.  No doubt, he wishes to shore up his reputation in that regard.

In other words, Mr. Trudeau could have told United States privately before the plane landed at Vancouver International Airport that we were not going to arrest Ms. Meng.  In retrospect, that likely would have been the wiser political decision.  But that was 2018.  This is 2020.  Why, in heaven's name, would we now give in to the world's greatest bully nation?  If we started to do that we would be starting on the road of becoming a client country to China.  And since to send her home would be an open rebuff to the United States, we could hardly go groveling to them again for help.

I am serious.  Now that Xi Jinping is President for life, China is pushing the boundaries with every country it can.  Most of the countries are smaller than they are ("Let's take over a port in Sri Lanka while they owe us some money") but now they are getting a little pushy with some countries that are almost as big as they are.  I hope everyone noticed that Chinese soldiers recently pushed twenty some Indian soldiers over cliffs to their deaths in the Himalayas.  They have placed trade sanctions on Australia because of an argument over the sensitive issue as to how the coronavirus started.  They have threatened the auto industry in Germany.  A couple of years ago, Pres. Roderigo Duterte of the Philippines indicated that he was planning to cozy up to China instead of the United States.  Recently, he changed his mind as their ships got closer and closer to his islands and sunk a Philippine fishing boat.  And don't get me started about Africa!

Like a typical bully, they are afraid to pick on somebody their own size.  The question has to be asked, since it is United States that laid the charges against their precious corporate leader, why are they transferring their anger to Canada?

There may be situations in which we can accomplish something for Canadian citizens who have been incarcerated by dictatorships.  Recently, apparently in part because of a telephone conversation with Prime Minister Trudeau, Pres.Abdul Fathab el Sisi of Egypt had a Canadian engineer, Yasser Ahmed Albaz, released from prison and sent home to Canada.  I don't know that we did anything for them in exchange.  Remember, however, that Egypt is roughly the same size or smaller than us, politically.  Once again, China is bigger and a bully.

My real anger with China coincides with anger at world media and, as a result, non-interest by the public in the fate of the Uyghurs.

Who cares about the Uygurs?  There aren't very many of them.  Most of the ones who are left still live in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region in northwestern China.  They have lived there for many many millenniums, long before the Han people, who now populate the rest of China, discovered them.  China now admits to less than 13 million of them.  There are 223,000 in Kazakhstan.  In the 2016 Census, 1555 people in Canada indicated that they were Uygurs.  They are a quiet farming community which, between the tenth and sixteenth centuries, gradually became Sunni Muslims.

Right now, over a million of them are in maximum security prisons where they are being forced to abandon their culture, their language, and their religion.  The only way to successfully escape the prison is to convince their ethnic Han captors that they have completely capitulated.  The one child rule, which no longer exists in the rest of China, is being strictly enforced in Xinjiang.  There is no doubt that this is cultural genocide.  I fear that it may be the beginning of complete genocide.  And as you can see from the numbers I set out above, a complete genocide, a " final solution" if you will, can easily occur in Xinjiang province and, of course, there would then be more room for Han people to multiply.What they are doing here is not unlike what they did in Tibet.  In that case, the Dalai Lama has made the rest of the world, at least, aware.

I have yet to talk about Hong Kong.  Obviously, the new national security law fits the pattern.  Some observers who understand China better than myself are suggesting that Xi is feeling very insecure in his position and that that is why he is striking out.  I don't know.  I will say that I think that much of what China does is racist.  Why else, for instance, would they claim ownership to Taiwan, when the two countries do not share at a historical past but happen to share the same ethnic background. 

300,000 Canadian citizens live in Hong Kong.  Many of them will want to come home to Canada, now, and there will be other people who will wish to join them.  It is very important that we do not blur the distinction between ethnic Chinese and the People's Republic of China.  Under no circumstances, should assumptions be made that put the two together.  This is extremely important, more so because of the attitude of the Chinese government and the pressure that they may wish to put on Canadian citizens of Chinese origin.  We must all be extremely vigilant and, frankly, protect these people.

Now, Barbara Cook may rue the fact that she asked for my opinion on this.  As I understand the new Hong Kong national security legislation, any individual in the world can be charged with subversion of state authority if they criticize the Hong Kong government.  Apparently, a young boy has been arrested for holding up a sign that read "Hong Kong Independence" .  Clearly, I can be grateful to Trudeau for ending Canada's extradition arrangement with Hong Kong.  Perhaps Barbara should be grateful as well.  She incited me.

Meanwhile, I am afraid that the two Michaels will have to await another day before they can come home.