By TOM GODFREY
Some 100 Caribbean farmworkers were racially profiled when asked to provide DNA samples to OPP officers who were probing a sex assault last year, the head of the Ontario Human Rights Commission says.
Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall is “troubled” by allegations the migrant workers were asked for DNA samples last October and November while working on a farm near Vienna, Ontario.
Many of the workers had been coming to work in Canada for many years and were from Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Mexico and South American countries.
“Racial profiling in any form causes great harm to individuals and in many cases entire communities,” said Hall. “We will continue to speak out when we see it happening anywhere in Ontario.”
Hall’s submissions were made to the Ontario Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD), who has launched an investigation following a complaint of racial profiling by Justicia for Migrant Workers, an activist group that helps migrant workers.
Officers from the Elgin County Detachment of the OPP had been probing an assault in which the assailant was described as a dark man. There was no other description. A suspect was later charged and is before the courts.
Justicia, in a complaint last December, alleged DNA samples were taken from 100 “Indo and Afro-Caribbean” male migrant workers who did not match the suspect’s description apart from their dark skin colour.
The OHRC is concerned that the allegations are consistent with racial profiling, and has delivered a submission to the OIPRD sharing its expertise in racial discrimination and profiling, said Hall.
“The OPP practice of seeking voluntary DNA samples in investigations has a disproportionate impact on racialized groups and marginalized communities,” she told the OIPRD.
“The workers were targeted mainly because of race and stereotypes that Black men and migrant workers are prone to criminal behaviour,” Hall alleged.
“The requests were coercive, as migrant workers are particularly vulnerable and rarely seek to assert their rights for fear of being sent home,” the OIPRD was told.
Racial profiling is prohibited under Ontario’s Human Rights Code but remains a daily reality for Aboriginal Peoples and members of racialized, particularly Black, communities in Canada, according to Hall’s submission.
Justicia spokesman, Chris Ramsaroop, said some workers were placed in the back of a police car while DNA samples were retrieved.
“We question the legitimacy of these investigative practices,” said Ramsaroop. “The policing practices leveled against migrant workers in Ontario are deplorable and abhorrent and we call on OIPRD to stop these racialized practices.”
The group, in its submission, claimed the actions against the workers by the OPP were not “a mere misunderstanding”.
“These activities appear calculated andare consistent with the ongoing experiences of many migrant workers with policing in Ontario,” Ramsaroop alleged.
He claimed workers who refused to provide a DNA sample to police were ostracized and made to feel guilty.
Justicia is calling for a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on the immigration status of migrant workers when questioned by police. They are also seeking the release of all police information relating to migrant farm workers.
The OIPRD probe continues and a report will be released at a later date. By that time all the workers may have returned to their home countries.
There are about 20,000 temporary foreign workers who come to Ontario annually to work in agricultural and dairy farms.
Ottawa is being forced to address complaints that the Temporary Foreign Worker program is being abused in some areas of Canada by large firms who were using the cheap labour instead of hiring Canadians.
A review of the program is underway.