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Daniel Quesada, Migrant Worker Coordinator

A couple months ago I reached out to Chris Ramsaroop, one of the lead organizers at Justice For Migrant Workers (J4MW) about collaborating on the 2016 Migrant Worker Outreach Program. He mentioned to me that J4MW was planning a Caravan across Ontario between September and October, travelling West to East, starting in Leamington, ON and ending in Ottawa, ON. On Tuesday, September 27th, 2016, J4MW and the Harvesting Freedom Caravan made its way to Cobourg, ON. 



Local activists gathered at Kim Rudd's office for a Demonstration and March for Justice

On September 27th, at approximately 3:00PM, a March and Demonstration for Migrant Worker Justice formed at Kim Rudd's office on Elgin Street in Cobourg, ON. Organized by local activists from the Cobourg and Peterborough area, this event kicked off with Peter Vance and Gabriel Allahdua speaking about Migrant Worker Justice and the importance of the Harvesting Freedom Caravan. Allahdua spoke about the importance of Migrant Workers being granted Permanent Immigrant Status. As a Migrant Worker through the Seasonal Agriculture Workers Program (SAWP), Alladua emphasized that status means respect, equality, fairness, and inclusion, principles that he believes Canada is based on. He continue saying that giving Migrant Worker status would give them rights and freedoms, including the right to find a new employer, the ability to stand up for their rights in the workplace, and the ability to stay in Canada.


Local activists marching down Division Street in Cobourg

Shortly after the talk, the group of approximately 25 people hit the streets, taking up one lane of traffic on Division Street all the way to King Street. The March and Demonstration ended at Victory Hall, where Peter Vance again thanked everyone for cooperation and involvement in the March for Justice. I asked some of the locals that attended this March if they had seen or heard of a demonstration like this ever happen Cobourg. No one could re-call such an event like this happening in the area. It appears that a demonstration of this nature is the first of its kind in Cobourg!

Following the demonstration, Horizons of Friendship (Horizons) held an Open Forum & Roundtable Discussion on Migrant Workers issues at our office on Covert Street. There were approximately 25 guests in attendance, hailing from Trenton, Brighton, Cobourg, Peterborough, Toronto, and as far away as Mexico City. Friends of Migrant Workers (FOMW), a volunteer-led organization based in the community of Brighton came out to the Open Forum & Roundtable Discussion to learn more about the Harvesting Freedom Caravan. 

The event quickly started with Chris Ramsaroop noting that organizations and initiatives like FOMW and the 2016 Migrant Worker Outreach Program have been popping up all over Canada, working to fill the gap in services and accommodations that Migrant Workers experience during their stay. Ramsaroop futher noted that the names "Temporary Foreign Worker" and "Seasonal Agriculture Worker" are flawed. These programs aren't temporary or seasonal, rather, they're now a staple of the Canadian economy and have been here 50 years.


Open Forum & Roundtable Discussion at Horizons of Friendship

Allahdua and Ramsaroop took their time fielding questions from community members for nearly 90 minutes regarding Permanent Immigration Status for Migrant Workers and the role of farmers and unions in the Harvesting Freedom Caravan. Ramsaroop was quick to point out the historical precedence of Migrant Workers being granted Permanent Residence Status. Dutch, Polish, and British farmworkers in the 1930s and 1940s were granted Permanent Immigration Status upon arrival to Canada, and also received free land when they settled here. These laws changed in the 1950s when agricultural labour began to arrive from Jamaica, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Ramsaroop noted a number of books, historians, and academic literature that demonstrates the change in policy between European settlers to Jamaican, Mexican, and Caribbean was based on racism. Policy makers in the 1950s didn't want dark-skinned workers to settle in Canada, so they changed the laws to make their stay in Canada 'temporary'. 

After the Open Forum and Roundtable Discussion ended, Migrant Workers from the Northumberland County region arrived for a private dinner with Harvesting Freedom Caravan organizers. Shortly after, I gave Ramsaroop and Allahdua a night-tour of all the farms in the region, including visits with Migrant Workers at their residences. We were able to connect with around a dozen workers on this tour, talking to workers about their concerns and desire for change. 

Many thanks again to our friends at J4MW for providing us with an opportunity to learn more about the Harvesting Freedom Caravan. I'd also like to thank our friends at the Northumberland Community Legal Centre for their solidarity and support in organizing the day's events. I know that us here at Horizons and Migrant Workers across Canada appreciate your efforts towards making Canada a more just and inclusive society.