I thought we were doing so well. I really thought– wow!
Look at our community, rallying around frontline workers, thanking people who are putting their health at risk for us.
I smiled at 7 o’clock every evening. I loved the signs in windows thanking healthcare workers, thanking delivery people, thanking those working in grocery stores and restaurants.
But in reality, we are not doing as well as I had thought at supporting frontline workers: and I am disappointed.
Recently, the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News published a very brief article on temporary foreign workers who’d tested positive for COVID-19.
The article outlined how these people were immediately isolated, along with the people they’d come in contact with. The article even mentioned the large outbreaks of COVID-19 at a nursery in West Kelowna, and how the government has responded to food producers in need by gathering funding to help offset the cost of isolation for their workers.
The article was innocuous. It did a fair enough job at trying not to be inflammatory.
The point of this letter is to condemn the comments I saw on this article, on Facebook.
The number of people who I saw comment things like, “we don’t need these people anymore, Canadians can do this work,” and “how did they get in,” and “they send entire paycheques out of the country and the only thing they buy is alcohol and cause problems due to excessive drinking,” is sad.
It is so desperately sad.
How dare you?
These are people who do difficult, backbreaking work.
I have friends who’ve worked in the fields. Farms will hire local people, but they can’t retain them. Why? Because the conditions are terrible and the work is gruelling. The pay is not reflective of the difficulty of the work. Overtime is almost never paid.
Do you realize why the government had to step in with a subsidy for food producers?
It’s because these temporary foreign workers are often crammed together in bunks.
They would not be able to self-isolate.
That is one of the reasons the outbreak in Kelowna was so bad – these people work and live in very close quarters.
Canadians won’t do this work. Even if we tried, we don’t necessarily have the skills required for these jobs.
Contrary to popular belief, agricultural work is skilled work.
How many people in your immediate acquaintance could handle the conditions in which these people work? Read a few testimonies on how they’re treated. You will be shocked.
As for accusations that temporary foreign workers are some kind of alcoholics who don’t contribute to the economy – I could not imagine being so narrow-minded.
These are the very people who keep our agricultural economy running.
They’re the ones who are keeping fresh food on the shelves in the grocery stores, so that everyone can go and stock up while we self isolate.
Being able to self isolate is a privilege, and it’s one we would not have without temporary foreign agricultural workers.
To infer that these hardworking, determined people, who come to Canada to help us, and help our economy, are all alcoholics who don’t contribute – is insufferable.
The next time someone says that temporary foreign workers aren’t necessary, or that they don’t contribute, I want you to think of someone.
I want you to think about Sheldon McKenzie.
He was a temporary foreign worker in Ontario.
He was injured on the job, and instead of being given time to get medical treatment, his employer and government liaison officer tried to deport him.
As soon as he was unable to work, he lost his visa.
He was in a coma, on life support in the hospital. When he died, they were still arguing about whether or not to send him home.
There are innumerable testimonies from temporary foreign workers about the conditions in which they work.
Innumerable testimonies from people who’ve continued to work with fractured arms or other injuries, for fear of losing work.
I don’t think I can name many people in my acquaintance who are so dedicated to their job that they would continue to work that way.
I also can’t think of many professions where if you were hurt on the job and in a coma, they would try to kick you out of the country instead of making sure you were getting proper medical care.
I was so proud of Maple Ridge.
I was so proud of the way that we had rallied around frontline workers.
But I’m not convinced anymore.
If you say you stand behind frontline workers, then you stand behind them.
Are we condemning grocery store employees who’ve tested positive for COVID-19? Delivery people? Nursing home staff? Doctors?
No, of course not.
When you work on the frontlines, when your job exposes you to cramped conditions, of course you’re at risk.
That’s why we’re saluting frontline workers in the first place – because they’re putting their health and their lives at risk so that the average Canadian doesn’t have to.
When you go to the grocery store, think about the people who picked your fruit, processed your meat.
Those are jobs held pre-dominantly by temporary foreign workers.
You can’t be fearful of supply shortages in one breath, and condemn the people who prevent them in the next.
Temporary foreign workers are essential service, frontline workers.
There is no other way to look at the situation.
If we, as a community, are supporting frontline workers, then we should be supporting all of them. Not just the ones who fit conveniently in our world view.
The comments on the article were based in ignorance and racism.
I expected so much better from our community. I thought we were doing so well.
Marlowe Evans, Maple Ridge
[Editor’s Note: Maple Ridge’s Marlowe Evans is a student at the University of New Brunswick and has written a column for The News about youth issues. Here’s a link to one of her most recent columns.]
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