Hamilton

Haldimand-Norfolk is no longer distributing ID cards to migrant workers

The Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit has stopped distributing identification cards for migrant farm workers, most of whom are from Mexico and the Caribbean, to carry during the COVID-19 pandemic.

'We didn't really want to cause any added angst,' says the area's medical officer of health

The Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit was distributing identification cards for migrant workers during COVID-19, but says it's stopped doing that. (Submitted)

The Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit has stopped distributing identification cards for migrant farm workers, most of whom are from Mexico and the Caribbean, to carry during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The health unit was distributing cards to farmers, who would pass them on to local migrant workers to identify the workers' names, contact information, date of arrival in Canada and where they worked. Usage was optional, says Dr. Shanker Nesathurai.

The health unit was sending the blank cards in packages for farms, he says, but stopped a few days ago.

"Because we didn't really want to cause any added angst, I asked the team to not send the cards out," he said Wednesday afternoon. "We're not sending any more cards out."

The cards drew criticism earlier this month. Dusty Zamecnik, chair of Norfolk County's agricultural advisory board, said it seemed to resemble carding. Ameil Joseph, a McMaster University associate professor who studies critical race theory, called it "peculiar."

"We know identification cards specifically targeted at those who belong to minority groups produce more problems than we would ever want," he said.

Nesathurai said seasonal migrant workers are still a "priority population." About 4,300 workers arrive each year in Haldimand and Norfolk counties from other countries, and their contributions are key to the food supply.

Nesathruai also issued an order on March 24 that seasonal workers have to quarantine for two weeks after their arrival in Canada. No more than three workers can stay in a bunkhouse during the quarantine period, and the rest stay in local hotels.

Some farmers say this has eaten into their growing season and jeopardized their harvests. Nesathurai says the isolation is a better option than an uncontrollable COVID-19 outbreak among the migrant worker population.

Haldimand-Norfolk's board of health, which is also Norfolk County council, voted 6-3 on Tuesday not to ask Nesathurai to amend the order, but he'll report back in two weeks. 

Nesathurai also rescinded an order Friday forbidding out-of-area people from visiting their cottages and other secondary residences in Haldimand and Norfolk.

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