Jamaican farm worker's death gets human rights hearing

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario is hearing evidence today in Toronto regarding the workplace death of a Jamaican migrant worker crushed to death on a tobacco farm more than a decade ago.

Ned Peart crushed to death on a tobacco farm near Brantford, Ont., in 2002

An inquest opens into the death of a migrant farm worker. 1:50

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario heard evidence today into the workplace death of a Jamaican migrant worker who was crushed to death on a tobacco farm more than a decade ago.

Ned Livingston Peart died while working on a farm near Brantford, Ont., in August 2002, but the family's request for a coroner's inquest into the matter was refused.

Peart's brother, Wilbert Peart, testified this afternoon about the impact the death has had on the family back in Jamaica.

Peart said a police report he received concluded a skid fell on his brother, but he's heard different stories about what exactly caused the accident.

"I’ve heard conflicting stories about how he died," Peart told the CBC's Mike Crawley outside the tribunal building. "I know he was crushed by a bin. How it happened? I don't know."

The main witness to the accident also hasn't been allowed to speak with him, despite showing up to his brother's wake.

Under the Coroner's Act, an inquest is mandatory for workplace deaths in the construction and mining industries.

"The provincial government argues that's because of the risk of fatalities and the effecters aren't easily subject to scrutiny," Crawley said.

The group Justice for Migrant Workers argues that temporary seasonal workers should be included under the law, and not doing so violates the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Tzazna Miranda Leal of the group wants the tribunal to declare that discrimination.

"We want to prevent workplace accidents from taking any more lives of migrant workers, especially considering how dangerous farm work is," Leal said.

The Peart family has said the potential violation impacts not only their family, but all migrant farm workers in Ontario.

"We need to know how Ned died," Peart said. "What I'm feeling is that we're replaceable. If we die, there's 10 more to replace us."

A father, and business owner, Ned Peart left Jamaica because he badly wanted to travel.

Wilbert Peart said the income he was making in Canada was important to supporting his family back home.

"He had six kids that needed to be taken care of," Peart said. "At the time of his untimely death there was no income for them."

Deadly crash

The rights tribunal’s hearing once again draws attention to the protection and safety for seasonal workers employed in Canada.

In February of last year, a van carrying Peruvian migrant workers collided with a flatbed truck 20 kilometres northeast of Stratford, Ont., killing 10 workers and the driver of the other vehicle.

Two other workers survived the crash, and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board covered their medical expenses through Ontario's health insurance.

A coroner's inquest into the crash was never ordered following a police investigation which found the driver of the 15-seat minivan had failed to stop at a rural intersection.