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Migrant worker remembered as 'hard-working man of peace'

About 40 mourners gathered in a church Sunday evening for a memorial mass in honour of Juan Lopez Chaparro, a migrant worker from Mexico who died of COVID-19.

Juan Lopez Chaparro was 1 of 3 farm workers who have died of COVID-19; hundreds others infected

Rev. Peter Ciallella, Pastor of the Blessed Sacrament church in Burford, Ont., conducted the service for a man who'd been coming to Canada for the past decade to help his family.  (CBC)

About 40 mourners gathered in a church Sunday evening for a memorial mass in honour of Juan Lopez Chaparro, a migrant worker from Mexico who died of COVID-19.

The 55-year-old father of four died in hospital on June 20 after becoming ill in mid-May.

Rev. Peter Ciallella, Pastor of the Blessed Sacrament church in Burford, Ont., conducted the service for a man who'd been coming to Canada for the past decade to help his family. 

"We know he came here to work, to dedicate his life to supporting his family and to build a better life for his children and now they will not be seeing their father again, and that's hard," said Ciallella.

He also read a statement from Chaparro's widow Agustina Galindo. 

"Remember my husband as the man that he was, a man of peace, a hard-working man." 

Much of the service was conducted in Spanish, with many watching from abroad via Facebook Live. 

Chaparro is the third migrant worker to die in recent weeks in Ontario. Hundreds have tested positive, including more than 200 of Chaparro's co-worker's at Scotlynn Group near Simcoe.

The deaths have come despite warnings from migrant workers groups who said publicly — even before workers arrived in Canada — that cramped sleeping quarters would create a perfect breeding ground for COVID-19. 

In a statement, Chaparro's wife called on more income supports for migrant workers and a fast-track to permanent resident status. 

"Our priority remains ensuring that my husband's body be returned to us as soon as possible so that as a family we can properly mourn our beloved husband and father," the statement says. 

Chaparro's funeral comes on the same day that demonstrators gathered in Leamington to call for better supports and improved conditions for migrant workers. 

Juan Lopez Chaparro died June 20, 2020 after contracting COVID-19 from Scotlynn Group farm where he was employed. (Submitted by Chaparro Family)

The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit reported 98 new cases of novel coronavirus in the area Sunday with 96 of them among farm workers. 

The deaths and infections have come despite a two-week quarantine for workers upon entry to Canada in the spring. 

New rules were put in place to increase physical distancing among farm workers. 

But other rules — including one that allows workers to continue working if they test positive but have no symptoms —have raised concerns from critics who say more is being done to ensure farm work isn't disrupted than to protect workers. 

Karen Cocq of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change said the treatment of migrant workers has been a problem for decades, but that the COVID-19 pandemic is shinning a new light on the problems. 

"Migrant workers know that if they ever say anything about their working conditions, they will get terminated and lose their income and get deported and possibly blacklisted from returning in the future," she said. 

Premier Doug Ford has vowed that won't happen, but Cocq remains skeptical. 

"We certainly hope that the death of these men will not be in vain and that the government will take action to address the fundamental problems that resulted in their deaths."

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