‘You will be separated from your family for half of your adult life.’

70 years ago, Andrew Moir's grandfather came to Canada to work as a farm labourer — he was able to buy a farm and build a life in Canada. Today's migrant workers don't have that option.

By Andrew Moir, Director, Babe, I Hate To Go

Almost 70 years ago, my grandfather moved to Canada from The Netherlands to work as a farm labourer. He worked very hard. Eventually, his wife moved here too and they built a life together as tobacco farmers. They bought a farm of their own and became Canadian citizens. When my grandfather died, he left behind children and grandchildren who were financially comfortable because of his sacrifice and hard work.

When I think about Delroy, the subject of my film, I think about my grandfather. They have a lot in common. Delroy first came to Canada from Jamaica as a farm labourer when he was 23 years old. Like my grandfather, Delroy wanted a better life for his family — with the dream of eventually buying a farm of his own.

But Delroy came to Canada as a migrant worker. He worked in Canada for six months, then had to return to Jamaica for the rest of the year.

Throughout his 30-year career as a migrant worker, Delroy worked just as hard as my grandfather and sacrificed even more, separating himself from his family in Jamaica for six months of every year. But his economic circumstances barely changed and he was never able to buy a farm.

Why was my grandfather able to achieve his goal, but Delroy wasn’t? 

“A career as a migrant worker means that you will be separated from your family for half of your adult life.”

Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers, mainly from the global south, work in Canada and the United States. They earn minimum wage and are tied to one employer. No matter how long they work here, migrant workers have no path to permanent residency or Canadian citizenship. A career as a migrant worker means that you will be separated from your family for half of your adult life.

Delroy contributed to our country’s agriculture sector and paid taxes, but could never become a citizen or even have a formal guarantee of permanent employment. Why wasn’t he “worthy” of the same opportunities afforded to my grandfather? My grandfather was a working-class farmer who benefited from a robust Canadian immigration system. That system has since undergone a massive shift, where a working-class person can only gain access to Canada temporarily.

I started filming my uncle’s tobacco farm in 2013. I already knew Delroy; he had been working on my uncle’s farm for 10 years, but we became friends over the first year of the shoot.

Delroy’s optimism was infectious. He occasionally talked about being lonely and missing his family, but he was also proud of the career he had built for himself here.

Then Delroy learned he had cancer. He remained enthusiastic about the film and welcomed me to shoot in Jamaica. I saw an opportunity to show a character-driven look at the migrant worker experience that was rooted in a universal story about a man facing his mortality.

Four years later, I’m releasing the short film Babe, I Hate To Go. This short film tells a small portion of a much larger story — about how Delroy’s diagnosis put his relationships with his family to their final test. It marks the beginning of a documentary project that shows the way of life for migrant workers and their families. We are raising the financing to complete a feature-length documentary and you can follow our progress on Facebook

Over the past four years, I’ve developed a deep admiration for Delroy and other migrant workers like him. Babe, I Hate To Go is a human look at a challenging moment in one migrant worker’s life. He’s faced with his mortality — a universal struggle. I hope that audiences will see themselves in Delroy and find new ways to relate to a group of people who are too often invisible.

They deserve better.