An advocate is demanding better protections for migrant farm workers after a young man from St. Vincent died last week while he was in quarantine in a Mississauga hotel.
Romario Morgan, 22, died on Thursday, April 29 before he was to start work on an Ontario farm. He was found unresponsive and flat on his back in a hotel room. The cause of death is not known.
Chris Ramsaroop, an organizer with the activist group Justice for Migrant Workers, said there should be an independent investigation into Morgan's death to determine if there is a connection to his work.
Ramsaroop said there are reports of recent deaths of two other farm workers, one from Trinidad and Tobago and one from Mexico. He said the other two were in their workplaces when they died. He said coroner's inquests would be one avenue to determine the cause of death in all three cases.
"The most vulnerable have the least protections. That should be an outrage to all of us," he said.
Farm workers are the most vulnerable workers in Ontario because they lack basic workplace protections and there is a constant threat of deportation or repatriation, he said. As well, the pandemic has made conditions worse, he added.
"The heightened immigration risk, coupled with precarious working and living conditions, is a recipe for this crisis that exists currently in COVID," he said.
Ramsaroop said there is lack of access to health care and changes should be made to employment standards and occupational health and safety laws to protect farm workers from dangerous conditions and infectious diseases. The group has been advocating for migrant workers for 20 years across the province.
"It's a plantation system that exists in Ontario. We are calling for permanent status. No worker should be tied to a farm. No worker should be tied to an employer."
According to Morgan's older sister, Roshina Jack, Morgan had received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in early March before he left the country. He was in Ontario to pick fruit and his cousin had gone with him.
She said he called her "Big Sis" and they got along. She said every time she calls his mother now, she is crying.
"My brother is a very loving person. He went out there to make a life for his mom. He was the breadwinner for her," Jack told CBC News in an interview from Kingstown, St. Vincent.
"He was doing everything that he can to make sure that his mom and two younger brothers survive."
Jack, still in shock from the news, said the family would like answers.
The family doesn't know when Morgan left St. Vincent and when he arrived in Canada, but family members know he left after a volcano, La Soufrière, erupted in St. Vincent on April 9 and they were told he took a cruise ship to Grenada and then he went to Canada.
She said Morgan was staying in a hotel as part of mandatory 14-day isolation after his arrival in Canada.
Jack said Morgan's cousin, who was also isolating, realized that Morgan was not responding to messages when he was in his room and he asked another worker to check on him. That worker found him dead.
"He was just lying there. There was no blood, nothing."
The company that had employed Morgan called his mother to let her know an autopsy was scheduled for last Friday, but the family is awaiting the results. Jack said she did not know the name of his employer.
Const. Akhil Mooken, spokesperson for Peel Regional Police, said on Monday he cannot release any information about the death.
"There's no criminality involved," Mooken said.
Death follows coroner's report into deaths of farm workers
The death follows a report by Ontario's deputy chief coroner, Reuven R. Jhirad, about the COVID-19 deaths of three temporary foreign workers in the province last year.
In 2020, the three Mexican nationals died in May and June. All three men were under age 60 and contracted COVID-19 after arriving to work on Ontario farms.
Their names were Bonifacio Eugenio-Romero, who worked on a pepper farm near Kingsville; Rogelio Munoz Santos, who worked at a farm in Windsor-Essex; and Juan Lopez Chaparro, who worked on a vegetable farm near Simcoe.
The report includes 35 recommendations, calling on everything from improved access to health care to better communication between governments and agencies involved in bringing foreign workers to Canada each growing season.
Ontario sets up vaccine clinic for farm workers at Pearson
The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs said on the weekend it is reviewing the recommendations.
"Workers who come to Ontario under the federal government's TFW (temporary foreign worker) program are valued members of Ontario's agri-food sector," Christa Roettele, spokesperson for the ministry, said in an email.
"Their health, safety and well-being are very important to us, which is why we have and will continue to take action to protect agri-food workers and guard against the spread of COVID-19."
The ministry said it has set up a vaccination clinic for temporary foreign workers at Toronto's Pearson Airport following a successful pilot on April 10.
According to One News St. Vincent, a digital news outlet in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Morgan was originally from Grenadine island of Bequia.