The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) has destroyed DNA samples collected from nearly 100 migrant farm workers during a sexual assault investigation after the broad sweep was found to have violated human rights. The destruction of the samples is part of a settlement reached between the migrant workers and the OPP following a human rights complaint filed in 2015. The settlement brings relief and vindication for the workers, who have fought for justice for nearly a decade.
OPP Destroy Migrant Farm Workers DNA Samples
The case began with a police investigation into a violent sexual assault on a woman living near several farms in rural Bayham, Ontario. During the investigation in 2013, DNA samples were collected from 96 seasonal laborers, most of whom were Black or brown migrant farm workers. The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal ruled last summer that the OPP had discriminated against these workers, as the collection of DNA samples failed to consider their vulnerabilities and unfairly targeted them based on their race and occupation.
Adjudicator Marla Burstyn highlighted the power dynamics at play, with the workers having precarious employment conditions and their employers holding significant control. The visibly distinct migrant workers faced discrimination and stood out in the predominantly white community where they worked.
Settlement and Justice
According to CP24 News, The settlement, reached in May prior to a remedies hearing, includes the destruction of all collected DNA samples and requires the OPP to develop and implement a DNA canvass protocol and training that aligns with the Human Rights Code. The implementation of these measures is expected to take approximately one year.
As part of the settlement, all 54 applicants involved in the human rights complaint will receive $7,500 each, totaling $405,000 in human rights damages. While some of the workers whose DNA was collected were unable to come forward or were unreachable, all had their samples destroyed.
Significance and Future Implications
Lawyer Shane Martinez, representing the migrant workers, views this settlement as a historic victory. The case sheds light on the systemic vulnerabilities faced by seasonal agricultural workers, including limited opportunities for permanent residency, denial of benefits despite contributions to the Employment Insurance system, and the constant threat of deportation.
Martinez believes that this case will serve as a catalyst for other collective legal actions on behalf of migrant workers. By organizing together, these workers can overcome individual vulnerabilities and find strength in numbers. The settlement not only provides justice for the affected workers but also highlights the need for systemic changes to protect the rights of migrant workers in Canada.