Ontario’s Workers Demand Justice

“Why hasn’t Canada signed, ratified, and implemented the UN’s Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Their Families?” asks a plum. “I demand dignified treatment, respect, and guarantees of my rights as a worker”, says a pear. An apple notes that, “It is legal for farmers and employers to exploit migrant farm workers in Canada.” Meanwhile, grapes from the Niagara region join in with “Ice Wine: Pride and Luxury with a Canadian label, one of the most expensive but produced with the exploitation of migrant labour with the worst salary and without protection.” These fruits are not actually talking but are simply packaged in small paper bags with a card, with a question, or statement. Migrant workers in Ontario were asked, “If the fruit you were growing could speak, what do you wish they would say?” This traveling exhibit, Speaking Fruit, collected their answers and has been on its way to Ottawa to raise support and demand a response from our government.

Many Ontarians are unaware that most of the produce grown in Ontario comes from a small town near Windsor called Leamington. Leamington has a vast series of greenhouses growing food for sale to big and small grocery stores in this province. Calling itself the Tomato Capital of Canada, Leamington has the largest concentration of greenhouses on this continent. The farmer-owners of these greenhouses employ migrant worker to do most of the gruelling labour. Most of these workers are from Mexico and the Caribbean and they are brought in with promises of rich-country wages. However, they arrive to learn that they have to pay their employer for their housing (at several times the market rate) and they would be living with as many as 20 people in one house and would have to sleep in shifts. These workers are not given safety training or equipment and they are adversely affected when working with pesticides and chemical fertilizers. If migrant workers complain, they lose their jobs. Since their work visas are tied to their employment, they are also then immediately sent back to their home countries. In many cases, even their final pay-cheques are withheld by their employers or they are not paid the full amount. If one of them dies or is injured on the job – an all too common occurrence – they (or their corpse) are swiftly sent home to their family with no recompense or even apologies. Ontarians should be ashamed that this happens in our province.

What can be done to help? Currently, Bill 148 (Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act) is under consideration by the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, the mandate of which is to raise the minimum wage and improve workplace conditions. However, there are no provisions to improve conditions for migrant workers – or temp agency workers, for that matter. There cannot be two classes of workers: one treated fairly under the law and one for exploitation. Call or visit your MPP and let them know that Ontarians demand fair treatment for all workers.

The future of Keele Street: The Keele Finch Plus Study

On Thursday, 28 September, 2017, a public consultation was held to discuss proposed changes to the Keele Street and Finch Avenue W intersection. The City of Toronto Planning staff presented three propositions for changes to the area, each presented separately in different stations.

The event had an impressive turnout with approximately 70 to 80 local residents and DUKE Heights BIA members.

We spoke to resident Talisha Ramsaroop-Godinho and asked about her impression of the changes; she said, “I think the city plans are interesting and can benefit the community in many ways. My community will be more lively and walkable, and it also brings about more opportunity for residents and development. For me, it’s important that the community is there throughout the process and that their input continues to be taken into account and the community needs and benefits are being acknowledged as well.”

Former Deputy Mayor, Joe Pantalone, however, took issue with the plans’ general direction and their concentration on commercial development which he thought was facilitated at the expense of more residential development. He stated that, “the Keele Finch Plus Study could have understood and reflected how the corridor has the potential to transform into the heart of the area. It is a unique location, because this is where two major Toronto roads intersect, and there will be extensive access to transit with the completion of the Finch LRT and the Toronto York-Spadina Subway Extension (TYSSE).” Pantalone went on to say that, “Given these changes, it is disheartening to see these plans focus on employment use of the land rather mixed use which includes residential development.”

The plans proposed by the Keele Finch Plus Study will surely engender many improvements in the neighbourhood, but they leave some wondering if they fully capture the exponential growth that is expected to occur in the community with the changes in transit.

For more information about Keele Finch Plus and the related public consultation, you can visit the Planning Study’s website and the Consultation Summary. If residents and business owners have any questions or concerns about the proposed changes to the Keele Street and Finch Avenue W intersection,  they are encouraged to contact the local business improvement area, DUKE Heights BIA, and Matt Armstrong of the City of Toronto’s Planning Division; he can be reached at 416-392-3521, or via email at matt.armstrong@toronto.ca


Keele Street to get a makeover

On 21 September, 2017, the  residents, business owners and property managers of Downsview, University Heights, and Black Creek  communities were invited to discuss the beautification plan and business improvement strategies being implemented by Councillor Anthony Perruzza and Matias de Dovitiis, the Executive Director of DUKE Heights BIA, for Keele Street, Toro Road, and Tangiers Road.

The proposed plan included but was not limited to: new public seating areas, signs, bike racks, garbage and recycling bins, and the addition of green spaces. This plan will essentially change the face of Keele Street.

The objective of these improvements is to create communal spaces to encourage outdoor activities, enhance neighborhood aesthetics, make the BIA more attractive for business investment, encourage people to visit DUKE Heights for leisure and, ultimately, to make it more enjoyable for residents to spend time in the neighborhood. Through these enhancements, Keele Street will look bolder, more beautiful, and more attractive for businesses and residents.