Ten migrant farm workers from Peru, many part of the same extended family, died Monday after their 15-passenger van collided with a flatbed truck in southwestern Ontario.
The impact was so violent, the truck sheered away the side of the van and pinned it against a farmhouse. The incident has raised familiar questions in Canada. Many say 15-passenger vans are simply unsafe. Furthermore, the safety of migrant workers – many from Latin America and Asia – is under scrutiny.
"We call it the three Ds: dangerous, dirty and deadly," Agriculture Workers Alliance representative Stan Raper said, CTV News reported. "A lot of Canadians don't want to do this work."
He said long hours, poor safety standards and little representation are common.
The threat of deportation always looms over their heads, said Deena Ladd, Workers' Action Centre co-ordinator, and most would rather tolerate the conditions than return to their homelands.
"Migrant workers have little power in the workplace. Brought into Ontario under temporary foreign work permits or the seasonal agricultural program, workers are tied to one employer and can be sent back to home countries if they raise concerns about health and safety or wages and working conditions," a WAC press release said, according to CTV.
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Monday’s crash happened at dusk when the sun was blinding at the wrong angle. The van, with 12 workers and the driver, traveled along a small rural road to cross a busier highway. The van’s driver had a stop sign, but police don’t know if he stopped before proceeding.
The driver of the flatbed truck also died. Three of the Peruvians who survived the crash – something first responders called incredible – remain in critical condition.
“The impact and the carnage that was out there — it’s a miracle that these people are still living,” Ontario Provincial Police Const. Kees Wijnands told the Toronto Star.
Five of the workers arrived on Friday, and had just finished their first days on the job. A poultry company hires the workers to travel from farm to farm, corralling birds for inoculations.
This isn’t the first incident of migrant workers killed or injured in Canada. Including Monday’s crash, 18 migrant workers have died, and 26 injured on Canadian roads since 2005.
It’s also not the only incident involving the large vans. A school van and semi-trailer collided near Bathurst, N.S., in 2008, killing seven high school basketball players and their coach. Three mothers from that group issued a statement on Tuesday.
“(Monday’s) terrible tragedy in Ontario is further proof that 15-passenger vans are death traps that should not be used to transport human beings,” the statement read, according to the Globe and Mail.
Police said Monday’s crash is the worst in Ontario history. Stratford is roughly two hours southwest of Toronto.
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