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'So much misunderstanding': Podcast highlighting York Region migrant stories

Hidden Stories of York Region has launched a new season, delving into recent stories of immigrants in the region
File photo

When police found 64 migrant workers at a farm in East Gwillimbury in 2023, Yvonne Kelly and the Social Planning Network of York Region saw a need to highlight different stories.

As more tales emerged of migrants coming to Canada and the systems at play causing issues, Kelly said they saw there were more stories to tell.

People were coming to Canada in hopes of something better but were not being treated fairly Kelly said.

“There’s so much misunderstanding in terms of what it is to be a migrant worker,” Kelly said. “We’re seeing now without changes, people working in very oppressive, and long hours, not healthy conditions … Workers are really coming together to fight for their rights and to document what’s happened.”

The Social Planning Network of York Region is looking to highlight those tales with a new season of its Hidden Stories of York Region podcast. Releasing June 7, the four-part season will delve into recent stories of immigrants in the region.

The hope is to help better inform people about the lives of migrant workers and the kinds of issues and barriers they face, Kelly said. She said that workers need need rights and status protections they do not have after they are taken away from an employer. 

“When we understand what people are living through, we can have more empathy and understanding,” Kelly said. “Racism right now is being used to divide and distract us.”

This is the fourth season of the podcast, which dates back to 2020 and has highlighted social issues throughout York Region. The last season published in 2022 specifically addressed housing issues.

Besides migrant workers from York Region’s agricultural sector, the season will tackle other issues of migrants, such as international students and the challenges they can face working in the country.

Another episode will spotlight the work of Butterfly, the Asian and migrant sex worker support network, including their protest of Newmarket’s massage parlour bylaw.

Social Planning Network board member Rebecca Pacheco said Butterfly is addressing the negative perceptions around sex work and workers in York Region, adding that there are people who legitimately undertake it.

“They need access to status. They need access to health care,” she said. “What they need access to is rights. They don’t need to be rescued.”

Kelly said they hope to garner a wide range of listeners for the podcast series. She promoted the cause of the Migrant Rights Network, fighting for legislation for permanent resident status for undocumented people, also known as regularization. She said they stand to provide needed labour and add to the economy.

The issues of migrant workers are present in York Region, she said.

“Everyone thinks that stuff happens somewhere else, but it’s happening here,” Kelly said. “We have a responsibility and a duty to speak to the federal government, say yes, we want you to have status for all. If someone is working here, they should come with status and be able to continue that work because otherwise, they’re unsafe.”

The podcast will be available across podcast platforms, including Apple and Spotify.

You can send any queries to [email protected].

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