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Street theatre trial finds Mexico and its Vancouver consulate guilty of blacklisting migrant workers suspected of being union sympathizers
Vancouver, BC - May 23, 2012 — The courtroom was the doorstep of Vancouver's Mexico consulate, as dozens of AWA and UFCW Canada activists and community allies assembled midday Wednesday for a community trial and protest. While the street theatre event was peaceful, the charges themselves were very serious: that Mexico and its Vancouver consulate colluded with some B.C. agriculture operations to blacklist Mexican migrant workers suspected of being union sympathizers (for background go to www.ufcw.ca/stoptheblacklist).
Acting as the community advocate for the workers was Raj Chouhan, the NDP MLA for Burnaby-Edmonds. "The Mexican Consulate of Vancouver has a practice of giving the workers 'workshops' when they arrive in Canada, telling them that if they complain about their working conditions, or speak to anybody other than their employers they will lose their jobs," Chouhan outlined to the community jury. The presentation was based on worker testimony presented earlier this spring to the BC Labour Relations Board (BCLRB).
The community jury also heard of other evidence brought to the BCLRB. It indicated blacklisting activity by Mexico and its Vancouver consulate of Mexican migrant workers suspected of being union sympathizers at two B.C. agriculture operations where workers voted to unionize with UFCW Canada Local 1518. The character acting as the defense lawyer for Mexico and its Vancouver consulate explained to the jury that, "my client’s concern is mostly to be in good terms with Canadians. My client just wants to make sure that Canada gets the workers they need, and that they are cheap and obedient."
The defense failed to move the jury. At the end of the trial, the community jury's proclamation found that, "the Mexican Consulate must be held accountable to stop the blacklisting of Mexican temporary workers and Mexican officials must be brought to justice."
The proclamation was then carried in and hand-delivered to the consulate office by Jim Sinclair, president of the British Columbia Federation of Labour, and Raúl Gatica and Gil Aguilar of the Agriculture Workers Alliance (AWA).
As for the outcome of the actual BCLRB hearings, Mexico has temporarily blocked proceedings at the labour board. During the BCLRB hearings earlier this spring, Mexico argued the allegations against it cannot be judged because of its claim of sovereign immunity. The BCLRB hearings into the blacklisting charges have been stayed, pending a ruling on the sovereignty issue by the Supreme Court of British Columbia.
The B.C. Supreme Court will commence hearings on Mexico's claim of sovereign immunity on May 28.