"Canada prides itself on human rights and a place where everyone is guaranteed human rights and a decent standard of living. But when I got here (and) when I met with reality, wow, wow, wow… that was really disappointing," said Gabriel Allahdua in a poignant interview with Al Jazeera.
The 45- year old came to Canada as part of the decades-old Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP), a program that allows Canadian employers to hire temporary farm workers from Mexico and eleven Caribbean countries for up to 8 months in the year.
While Allahdua was excited at the prospect of the opportunity, he faced a grim reality upon arriving in Canada, saying that "nothing before that (could) ever prepare" him for the working conditions on the site of the farm he was assigned to work in southern Ontario.
The program, which began in 1966, has seen the number of temporary agricultural workers working in Canada more than double in the last decade, going from around 20,000 workers in 2004 to nearly 41,700 workers in 2013.
Allahdua has since joined Justicia for Migrant Workers (JMW), a migrant rights group, and is embarking on a month-long tour of Ontario to raise awareness of workers’ conditions and advocate for their right to apply for permanent immigration status.
From the campaign held by JMV. | Photo: Facebook / Jaime R Brenes Reyes
Seasonal agricultural workers in Canada are tied to their employers, which both makes them extremely vulnerable to exploitation, and puts them in an extremely precarious position.
"Essentially they’re in work environments and relationships where they have no power at all... They're completely at the mercy of their employer," Tanya Ferguson, an organizer with JMW told Al Jazeera. "If you risk being terminated plus being repatriated to your country, you’re not going to do things that are in your own interests or protect your own safety."
Amid increasing awareness of farmworkers exploitation, the federal government launched a review of the program earlier this year, but many critics said the process favored employers and excluded migrant rights groups.
While Allahdua farmed in a greenhouse in the south of Ontario, he recalled having to share a room with 8 other workers, and living in a home with 54 more.
"I had to use earplugs so that I would be able to get some rest because there was no privacy," he said, adding that without access to the Internet, he felt like he was cut off from his family and "cut off from the world".
According to him, most workers fear that if they demanded better conditions, they would be deported from Canada.
"It's a question of whether you put up with the daily conditions that you’re facing, or go back home. What do you do?" he said. "So most people bear the conditions and that’s not an easy thing to do, to bear these conditions quietly."