By Jane Andres, Apple Hollow Bed and Breakfast, Niagara on the Lake

Please take a few minutes to watch the above video. It is a story that is still unfolding. These children that will be going to bed hungry tonight.....

We own a B+B in Niagara on the Lake surrounded by orchards and vineyards. We are passionate about supporting local farms and have also become good friends with many of the farm workers from the Caribbean. We have travelled to Jamaica on five occasions staying with the families and getting to know our "neighbours" better.

In 2007 one of our friends, Jeleel Stewart, was seriously injured when a forklift dropped on his hand at a local nursery, crushing it and severing the nerves and tendons. He underwent extensive surgery and returned to Jamaica where he received compensation and therapy through WSIB. 

In October 2010 he received a letter from WSIB stating that his injuries were declared permanent by the doctor. It said that there are jobs available as a cashier at gas bars in Niagara paying $340 weekly and that he would no longer qualify for compensation because of the availability of employment. 

The problem is he lives in Jamaica.  In 2010 they lost their home and were force to move to the country where they built a little shelter out of boards they had salvaged. The WSIB policy of deeming is causing incredible hardship on the family. Jeleel is in increasing pain and can no longer grasp even a glass of water. The pain has now travelled into his shoulder and back, shooting down his left leg. Last week he was unable to walk. Sleep has become impossible. His wife is sick with worry, constantly anxious about how to make the food stretch, how to come up with more than $400 Canadian every month for transportation for the children to attend school. 

Another couple in our neighbourhood, the Parkers, and my husband and I send money down every few weeks, otherwise their children would starve. We have been faithful but are being stretched financially to keep up this commitment to a very fine man and his wonderful family. We have visited the family in 2009, 2010 and 2012 and verify the depth of their suffering.

It is an unbelievable this tragedy that is unfolding because of policy created by our own Canadian government and WSIB. Change cannot come fast enough for this family. They have been living too long in despair.

Update: Major victory in the case of Hermelindo Gutierrez

After years of waiting and living in limbo, Hermelindo and his family were successful in the first stage of their application for humanitarian and compassionate stay in Canada. They have settled in St. Catharines, Ontario. Daughter Sayuri will start her studies in psychology at Brock University in the fall, as the inaugural recipient of the Migrant Worker's Children's Scholarship ( The scholarship was the idea of DOAM (Dignidad Obrera Agricola Migrante), a group of migrant workers in the Niagara Region. Congratulations to Hermelindo, Sayuri and family! Thanks to everyone who supported the family and their campaign to stay in Canada. Please consider supporting the scholarship fund so that Sayuri and future recipients may benefit from the opportunity to study in Canada.

Globe and Mail article about the family and Sayuri's scholarship:

Hermelindo Gutierrez is a migrant farm worker from Mexico who fell ill with kidney failure while working in Canada as part of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program. Deportation will mean that this husband and father of three young children will not be able to afford the treatment and medication to keep him alive. He is seeking refugee status in Canada. This petition is in support of a Humanitarian and Compassionate application for the Gutierrez family.

RIP Alberto Garcia

Mexican migrant farmworker, husband, and father of three, Alberto Garcia, 39, died at home, surrounded by his family, after an almost two year battle with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer.

Alberto had worked in Ontario as part of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program for many years, when he was diagnosed with cancer in the spring of 2006. His case made headlines with his struggle to stay in Canada to continue receiving cancer treatments despite pressure from officials for him to return home immediately. He was embraced by supporters, especially Herman and Joanne Plas, who took him into their Waterford home to live upon release from hospital for the duration of his stay in Canada. (The couple won a UFCW Black Eagle Award in 2007 in recognition of these efforts.)

Though Alberto's doctors initially only gave him weeks to live, he received extensive treatments at London's *University Hospital, which allowed him to regain some of his strength. His common law partner, Maribel, came to visit him and they later married at a service at the Plas home, conducted by Fr. Frank Murphy, a Catholic priest who had been visiting and supporting Alberto regularly since he became sick.

Alberto and Maribel returned to Mexico in December, 2006, when his visa and right to medical coverage in Canada expired. They were reunited with their three young children who had stayed in Maribel's mother's care during their absence.

In Mexico he found it difficult to afford costly cancer treatments and eventually his condition deteriorated again.

The Plases had the chance to visit Alberto and Maribel twice in Mexico—in January 2007 and 2008. They report that he was able to spend his last year of life with his family, and at times his quality of life was even good enough that he was able to do some work on his home. They also say that Canadian doctors did as much as they could before he went home and that the medical system here was excellent with him. Unfortunately, he was not able to afford the same standard of care once he returned to Mexico.

Alberto was a quiet and humble man, who despite his illness, always fought to live and for his rights. He appears as a prominent figure in Aaraon Diaz's documentary film, Migrants: Those Who Come From Within* (Mexico: 2007), where he shares his story of work, illness, and the struggle to survive in Canada and Mexico. In the film, he recounts that he went so far as to write a letter to the President's wife to ask for help to pay for further cancer treatments. He did not hear back.

Alberto had worked at greenhouse operations in the Leamington, Delhi and Bradford/ Holland Marsh areas. He* leaves behind his loving wife and three small children, who he adored and worked so hard to support.

Alberto's death points to the larger injustices facing migrant workers in Canada, who are typically repatriated home as soon as they are sick, rather than cared for in Canada, the country of their employment, despite paying into taxes and other benefit programs. (Seasonal agricultural workers in Ontario are covered under OHIP during the duration of their contracts, but this coverage expires each year along with their visas.) Alberto's widow and children worry about how they will survive, as he was the family's breadwinner.

Donations to help Alberto's family in this difficult time can be made to account number 6258151-0083 at any branch of TD-Canada Trust. The account is in the names of Fanny Belcoski and Herman Plas, both of whom have been consistent supporters of Alberto and his family throughout this tragedy. They will ensure that his family receives any donations as soon as possible.

- Recent articles on Alberto's case [PDF]:

Fund to help farm worker with cancer
Mexican farm worker Alberto Garcia, 36, diagnosed with terminal cancer
Monte Sonnenberg SIMCOE REFORMER
Friday June 16, 2006

Caught in the middle
The Tuesday Times-Reformer
Monte Sonnenberg
Tuesday June 27, 2006

Mexican consulate rips union over farm worker
Consulate says bad advice means worker is not spending final days with family
Monte Sonnenberg - SIMCOE REFORMER
Monday June 26, 2006

Two Jamaican Migrant Farm Workers Were Killed in Delhi, ON, On their Way to Payphones to Call Home:

RIP: William Bell and Desmond McNeil.

Justicia extends its condolences to the grieving families. J4MW and Advocacy for Respect for Cyclists (ARC) held vigils for the deceased workers with fellow migrant workers and allies in Simcoe and Toronto. Please contact us if you would like to help their families back in Jamaica.

NEW! December 18, 2005: On the occasion of the International Migrant’s Day, Justice For Migrant Workers (J4MW) and Advocacy for Respect for Cyclists (ARC) are calling for a coroner’s inquest into migrant farm workers killed in bike accidents in rural Ontario this past season. Read press release & letter to coroner (pdf)

Media Links:
Simcoe Reformer No more tragedies :: Safety of migrant bike riders is a long-standing concern Jamaican Observer Eight children, wife robbed of breadwinner :: Many dreams died when Desmond McNeil was mowed down

Justice for Ned Peart
Justicia Press Release Demanding Justice for Deceased Migrant Farm Worker, December 20, 2004
Justicia Letter to Chief Coroner
Press Conference Photo Gallery, December 21, 2004

Media Links:
Migrant Worker's Family Demands Coroner's Inquest into Workplace Death :: Farm work danger - Canadian lobby group wants enquiry into death of Jamaican :: THE KILLING FIELDS: A migrant worker's sad end on an Ontario tobacco farm :: Vigil in Canada for dead Jamaican farm worker, 2003

J4MW supported Mexican migrant farmworkers in a labour stoppage during President Fox's visit to Western Canada, September '05

J4MW Press Releases:
Why Expand A Program That Forces Mexican Migrant Farm Workers To Live And Work Under Exploitative Conditions?
:: En Español
40 Mexican Migrant Farm Workers Stage Work Stoppage... :: En Español

Media Links: La Jornada, Denuncian maltrato, explotación y abandono :: México y Canadá cierran los ojos ante el problema: ONG