By Connor Lynch
The federal government is about to start invasive unannounced inspections on farms that use foreign workers to the point of breaking its own rules on farm biosecurity.
That’s according to executive director of the Canadian Horticultural Council Rebecca Lee.
Federal government officers from Service Canada has plans to conduct unannounced inspections on employers that use the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), which includes farmers using the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) and the Agriculture Worker Stream, Lee said.
Investigators would not give prior notice to an inspection, and would go on the property even if nobody is home, the foreign workers’ program says.
“First and foremost, unannounced and unsupervised visits would run counter to food safety rules,” said Lee in an emailed statement to Farmers Forum. Visitors must sign in to enter a farm, according to CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency)-recognized standards. “You can’t have one branch of government making one set of rules, and another branch of government turning around and breaking them,” Lee said.
The foreign worker program also cited privacy concerns, for both workers and farmers, since both live on the same property where they work, and safety concerns, since inspectors may not know how to handle themselves around farm machinery.
Investigators wouldn’t be opening any locked doors, but they would be able to look at documents, computers files, take photographs and video, make copies of relevant documents or information, and bring anyone they deem necessary with them for their inspection, reported iPolitics, a Canadian news website.
Said Lee: “Unless the inspectors are supervised and provide prior notice, there is a lot of risk involved in their visit.”
The federal government has also been auditing farmers on compliance with the foreign workers’ program, according to a survey done by the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource. The survey released last December found that 29 per cent of farmers in the program, 92 per cent of which are in Ontario, had been audited. Farmers cited many obstacles involving the audits, including 32 per cent of growers saying they weren’t receiving enough information about the process, the parameters, and the timeline.
Audits took, on average, four months to complete, with some taking as long as a year. Many growers weighed in on the survey: “We were not advised we were under audit until we put in an (application) for a replacement worker.” The farmer was in limbo until he asked Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services, a non-profit that coordinates farmers and workers, to look into it. “It was still a couple of weeks after that before Service Canada notified us we were under audit. Our farm could lose millions and there is a good possibility we will have to shut it down. Emotional state is terrible and my spouse could probably go into a depression. Our family eats and sleeps to farm.”
The survey concluded: “Service Canada’s administration of the program has deteriorated significantly for producers who are long-time users of the SAWP and other TFWP programs.”