OPP criticized for visits to farms on Good Friday

'Disrespectful, intrusive, unnecessary’ Masschaele says

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The Ontario Provincial Police came in for criticism this week at the Norfolk and Haldimand board of health.

Board members were surprised to field complaints this week following reports that local OPP paid surprise, unannounced visits to area farms where migrant workers are serving their mandatory 14-day quarantine due to concerns over COVID-19.

“I got a lot of calls and emails about these visits,” Port Rowan Coun. Tom Masschaele said Wednesday. “These visits were done on Good Friday.

“(Farmers) felt that – of all the days on the Christian calendar – that day is most holy. And they felt they were compromising the quarantine. It was disrespectful, it was intrusive and – on this day in particular – unnecessary.”

Delhi Coun. Mike Columbus shared similar sentiments.

“The concern is the OPP is spreading the COVID if – in fact – there was a COVID-19 case at one of the nine bunkhouses they visited that day,” he said.

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Norfolk council serves as the board of health for Norfolk and Haldimand due to its larger population.

Norfolk CAO Jason Burgess told the board the OPP are required by the federal Quarantine Act to serve as the enforcement arm of the federal government during a public health emergency.

Burgess said concerns over the visits are likely overblown because police – in the execution of their duties – are engaged in social distancing and other COVID-19 protocols.

For the past year, local farmers who rely on offshore help have complained that public-health measures related to COVID-19 are interfering greatly with their regular routine.

Controversial through all of 2020 was an order – still in effect – from Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, Norfolk and Haldimand’s medical officer of health, capping the number of migrant workers who can serve their mandatory 14-day quarantine in a bunkhouse to three, regardless of floor area.

The controversy was compounded earlier this year when Nesathurai ruled that local farmers cannot transport migrant workers to their farms from Pearson International Airport by bus.

Rather, Nesathurai has capped the number of workers who can arrive in the local health district at three per vehicle. The idea is to isolate the same three workers who will quarantine together on the ride home as opposed to having several dozen gathered together on a bus as traditionally is the case.

Mayor Kristal Chopp, chair of the Norfolk and Haldimand board of health, expressed frustration with the three-per-vehicle rule Wednesday. Chopp noted that COVID-19 has taken a heavy toll on cab drivers as essential, front-line workers.

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“This is where this argument doesn’t hold water for me,” Chopp said. “Now we’re exposing our migrant workers to a higher level of risk. What power do we have as a board of health to question this?”

Vittoria Coun. Chris Van Paassen also raised concerns. He asked how it is better, during a pandemic, to expose 12 drivers to the potential risk of COVID-19, as opposed to one bus driver behind a plexiglass shield carrying 36 workers newly arrived in Canada.

“What facts do we have that make our health unit different than the other 33 across the province?” Van Paaassen said at the end of Wednesday’s meeting. “I’d like to see that data.”

Nesathurai was scheduled to attend Wednesday meeting but Chopp said he was unable to make it due to illness.

MSonnenberg@postmedia.com

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