On a narrow stretch of gravel at the side of the road where a 33-year-old Mexican farm worker was the victim of a fatal hit-and-run, farm workers and locals were called to gather in her memory.
A single mother of two daughters, she was taken to the Hamilton General Hospital after being struck Saturday, Aug. 17, and died from her injuries two days later. Her friends said she was walking home after a church picnic.
She was in NOTL for the second year, packing peaches at Tregunno Farms.
A Pelham man has since turned himself in. He was arrested by the Niagara Regional Police and charged with dangerous driving causing death and failing to stop at the scene of an accident resulting in death.
Sonia Aviles of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change organized the Sunday evening event on Concession 7, which drew about 50 people, some holding candles and praying for the victim and her family, others listening in respect.
Another group of farm workers had been bused to a church service held in Vineland to remember her.
Although her first name was published last week with permission, the media has since been requested to not use it.
During the vigil, a small memorial was set up near where the collision occurred.
Aviles and others who spoke also called on all levels of government to improve the safety, transportation, housing and other issues for migrant workers in Niagara and across the country.
Locally, she said, workers should be able to walk safely at night, calling on the municipality to help with lighting, infrastructure to slow traffic and better transportation.
She also called on all Canadians to unite against racism, saying 70 per cent of immigrants to Canada are temporary workers, and asked they be given permanent resident status.
“If they’re good enough to work here, they’re good enough to stay,” she said. “They come to work in the agricultural and wine industries, but they’re not treated the same. Migrant workers are workers.”
Coun. Norm Arsenault, a member of the Town’s safety committee, said he would do what he could to make sure farm workers have a voice.
He can’t do much about issues that are the responsibility of upper levels of government, except for passing on the messages he was hearing, but promised he would be discussing the possibility of safety vests for workers walking in the dark. In many cases workers have obtained lights for their bikes, but he’s heard they sometimes send them home to their families.
Aviles also spoke of a fire at Pioneer Flower Farms in St. Catharines, that destroyed not only the housing of about 20 farm workers, but all of their possessions.
Aviles and other workers called on the government to compensate them, as well as the families of migrant workers who have been injured or killed while in Canada.
Before asking for a moment of silence, Aviles read the names of about 30 migrant workers who have died in Canada, asking for each of those gathered at the vigil to respond with “presente,” to indicate their presence in spirit.
She also held a traditional Mexican cheer, to “lift the spirits of those not here today.”
It ended with a rousing “rah rah rah,” following the victim’s name.
Jermaine Campbell, a Jamaican farm worker, wanted to speak about workers’ compensation, which they pay into. He also urged the government to compensate families who have lost their loved ones.
“What happened to this lady could have happened to any of us. We’re all offshore workers,” he said. “Please look out for us.”
An emotional Mexican worker who began coming to Niagara after losing her husband, who was in Canada with the offshore workers’ program, spoke from her heart to the crowd. She was left to raise five children herself, she said, speaking Spanish which was translated by Aviles.
“I’ve been through tough times with my children, not having enough food for myself or for them,” she said.
She asked for help, but nobody helped me. This was many, many years ago and I’m still upset by what happened.”
She said she thinks a lot about the single mom who died, and her children, and that brings back memories of what she went through.
“I think it’s important to ask the government for help for her children,” she said.
A can was passed around for donations, and people were encouraged to donate a GoFundMe page, which has already raised about $35,000. It can be found at www.gofundme.com/f/niagaraonthelake-migrant-worker?.
Lord Mayor Betty Disero attended the vigil, but did not speak. She said Monday morning there would be a discussion about what would be done to improve road safety.
She stressed the need for education, and possibly safety vests for pedestrians and cyclists. Reducing speed limits on rural roads from 80 kilometres an hour to 60 km/hour, but then there is the added issue of enforcement for it to be effective, she said.
More bike paths on rural roads would also help, “but I don’t know if we can afford them. We may have to look at whether it’s financially doable.”
She also talked of making the shoulders wider to provide a safe area for pedestrians and cyclists.
At her request, the Town flag was lowered to half-staff Monday.