Don't be racist toward farm workers with COVID-19, says Brantford's health unit

The presence of 119 quarantined migrant workers from Mexico is drumming up racism in Brantford, says the acting medical officer of health. And she's warning people to knock it off.

'What happened is not the fault of these workers,' says the acting medical officer of health

There are 119 migrant workers from Scotlynn Group staying at hotels in Brantford. (Google)

The presence of 119 quarantined migrant workers from Mexico is drumming up racism in Brantford, says the acting medical officer of health. And she wants people to knock it off.

Dr. Elizabeth Urbantke says a small handful of angry residents have been calling the Brant County Health Unit with bigoted vitriol about quarantined workers from Scotlynn Group in Vittoria, Ont. The workers are staying in Brantford hotels.

People have always used viruses as an excuse to be racist, Brantford's joint emergency operations centre said in a statement. Some people have wanted to know how they could help the workers, which is closer to "the Brantford I know," Urbantke said.

"Unfortunately, we've received calls and emails, I will say from a small segment of our community, who have unfairly targeted these seasonal farm workers," she said during a media call Friday.

"With all that's going on in the world right now, more than ever, we need to stand up and take care of one another."

"What happened is not the fault of these workers." 

Scotlynn Group, which has several farms, has experienced one of Ontario's largest COVID-19 outbreaks among seasonal farm workers. The Norfolk County company ships fruits and vegetables across Canada and the U.S.

All told, 164 people have tested positive at Scotlynn, and 53 have tested negative. Four workers are in hospital and two are in intensive care. Some workers are quarantined at the Vittoria farm, while 119 others are at a Brantford hotels. 

The Haldmand-Norfolk Health Unit has also tested 100 people who may have been in close contact with Scotlynn employees, and four have tested positive. It also tested workers at Mike's No Frills in Port Dover, where the workers shop, and the No Frills workers have all tested negative.

The presence of the workers in Brantford hotels has caused some friction between the two areas. At first, the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit didn't involve Brant/Brantford, which has had fewer than 10 active COVID-19 cases for weeks.

Mayor Kevin Davis of Brantford said this week that his city had no notice that the workers were coming, and that an influx of people with COVID-19 could overwhelm the health-care system.

"I will be asking the province to investigate the handling of this matter," he said, "and why it was that we are dealing with the consequences of a farm outbreak outside of our community."

The workers already spent two weeks in isolation after arriving in Canada. 

The Brant County Health Unit is working with hotel staff on prevention measures, it says, and the workers are also respecting and complying with isolation protocols. 

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca