Federal government accused of blocking field work

Quebec farmers forced to have their foreign workers tested by a Toronto firm chosen by the federal government denounce this “mess”, which makes them waste time and money in a pandemic.

“The test on the tenth day is a mess. It does not work. The federal government insists on doing business with Switch Health, ”laments Jocelyn St-Denis, general manager of the Association des producteurs maraîchers du Québec (APMQ).

While the farmers have to start sowing, many say they are unable to send them to the fields due to this headache.

“Often the nurse on the other end of the screen doesn’t speak Spanish. It’s difficult to have a date. The lines are full, ”continues M. St-Denis.

For Stéphane Lemieux, co-owner of the six-hectare Royal Greenhouses in Saint-Jérôme, the bureaucracy is downright absurd. “It’s not viable. In addition to paying a quarantine of two weeks to stay in the houses, we have reached three weeks. There are COVID tests around the corner, ”he adds.

“It feels like Canada is a peewee team. We are not able to have the results in 24 hours, it takes 10 days. It is neither in French nor in Spanish. It’s just in English, ”sighs Charles-Félix Ross, director general of the Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA).

inundated with calls

Even Michel Pilon, coordinator of the Support Network for Migrant Agricultural Workers of Quebec (RATTMAQ), says he is inundated with unusual calls from bosses, who no longer know which way to turn.

“I have four full-time speakers on this. We receive nearly 120 calls from workers a day. I receive them from employers, ”he illustrates.

Yesterday, Switch Health declined our interview request. His spokesperson, Jordan Paquet, defended himself by email by pointing to the high flow of tests.

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“We understand that the high volume of requests causes delays in obtaining test results and we are working diligently to improve our process and the speed with which we deliver results,” he said.

In Quebec, the office of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of Quebec (MAPAQ), André Lamontagne, recalled that screening “falls under the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC)”.

At the office of the Minister of Health, Patty Hajdu, the firm was lectured.

“It is unacceptable that the Switch Health company is not able to meet its obligations to offer those who cross the border services in the language of their choice,” warned his attache Cole Davidson.

“The teams from the Health Agency of Canada are in contact with the company so that the situation is corrected and that the longer-than-expected delays in obtaining test results are reduced,” he concluded.

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