Migrant agricultural workers dreaming a better future

The rabble podcast network offers an alternative take on politics, entertainment, society, stories, community and life in general. All opinions belong to the podcaster; however, podcasters are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new podcasters -- contact us for details.

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca for as little as $5 per month!

Like this podcast? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, I speak with Evelyn Encalada of Justice for Migrant Workers and multiple award-winning filmmaker Min Sook Lee. They talk about the experiences and struggles of migrant agricultural workers in Canada, and about the new feature-length documentary Migrant Dreams.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of people -- mostly working-class people of colour from the Global South -- come to Canada as "migrant workers" to do various sorts of hard, low paying, low-status work. There are a number of different programs through which this is organized, from the 50 year-old Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, which has mushroomed in the last 15 years. Across the board, however, migrant workers face intense restrictions on basic rights that would be unimagineable for workers with Canadian citizenship, and this restriction of their rights by the Canadian state makes them highly vulnerable to and exploitable by employers.

Evelyn Encalada is a co-founder of and organizer with Justice for Migrant Workers, a group that has organized with migrant workers in the agricultural sector for more than a decade and a half. Their work runs the gamut from provinding acute support to individual workers in moments of crisis; to the long, quiet process of building the relationships that are the basis for exerting collective power; to mobilizing migrant workers and the broader public in visible efforts to push for change.

Min Sook Lee is a long-time activist and filmmaker. Her past films include My Toxic Baby; Tiger Spirit; Hogtown: The Politics of Policing; The Real Inglorious Bastards; and many more, and the awards at the Mayworks Festival -- Canada's oldest labour arts festival -- are named in her honour.

Lee's first documentary about the struggles of migrant workers, the Gemini-nominated El Contrato, was made in collaboration with Justice for Migrant Workers and was released in 2003. In 2013, she approached Encalada again, this time with an interest in making a feature-length documentary about the lives of women working in Canada as migrant agricultural workers -- the film soon to be released as Migrant Dreams. It follows the struggles of a group of Indonesian migrant workers living in southern Ontario and fighting back against the lies, coercion, and exploitation they face at the hands of recruiters and employers. It shows the deplorable conditions faced by migrant workers, and it shows both the determination and the complexity of these workers as they take a range of actions to survive and to resist. The world premiere of Migrant Dreams is on May 1, 2016 at the Hot Docs International Film Festival in Toronto. Encalada and Lee speak with me about organizing with migrant workers, filmmaking, and the relationship between the two; and about Migrant Dreams.

To learn more about Justice for Migrant Workers' latest campaign, called Harvesting Freedom, click here. To learn more about Migrant Dreams, click here.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show in general, visit its website here. You can learn about suggesting topics for future shows here.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

Like this podcast? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.