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No toilets, shower from a hose: Former employee describes life in a West Kelowna fruit picker camp

Fruit pickers, most coming from other provinces or countries, are being neglected at a West Kelowna camp, according to a woman who lives nearby.
August 10, 2017 - 1:07 PM

WEST KELOWNA – A little community in West Kelowna is dealing with a big problem.

Sheila Kennedy has lived on Scharf Road near Smith Creek for more than 20 years. Set amongst some of West Kelowna’s biggest vineyards and orchards, it seems like a quiet corner of paradise.

“We’re worse than Hein Road,” she says of the notorious Kelowna street.

The problem for the last two decades, according to Kennedy and some of her neighbours, is the chaos caused by unscrupulous farm owners who dupe migrant workers into coming to work for them.

“They come here expecting to find a camp site because that’s how it’s advertised,” she says. “There’s nothing. There’s no proper drinking water, no toilets, just an outhouse.

“Kids come here from Quebec, Newfoundland, wherever, and it’s like they’re staying in a third world country.”

This outhouse is the closest thing to a toilet for fruit pickers living at a West Kelowna camp. Neighbours say workers are being neglected but unable to speak out.
This outhouse is the closest thing to a toilet for fruit pickers living at a West Kelowna camp. Neighbours say workers are being neglected but unable to speak out.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Sheila Kennedy

Kennedy has, over the years, been forced to help from time to time, offering water, rides into town and occasionally, even her shower.

She’s kept in touch with some of the workers over the years, including Quebec resident Monica Desjardin who met Kennedy while employed by TBA Farms Ltd. in 2009. She returned in 2016 but says amenities were still “non-existent.”

"I had all my camping gear from mushroom picking and I'm used to setting up camp out of nothing but the others that come with just a backpack have it real bad," she says. “We had no usable outhouse, no shower and no water. The shower option that was given to us was the tap out in the orchard but that got cut off because the water was bad, the water we were drinking, and then (the owner) offered the hose behind some other trailer house that he is renting out.”

Desjardin, who is now back in Quebec, says current workers will not speak out for fear of being fired and left stranded.

"This neglect has been going on for way too long," Desjardins says.

A West Kelowna woman says as many as 20 people stay at this run down fourplex on Sharf Road at a time.
A West Kelowna woman says as many as 20 people stay at this run down fourplex on Sharf Road at a time.

Last Sunday, a 24-year-old migrant worker from Brazil was arrested after what Cpl. Dan Moskaluk called a "bizarre" break and enter attempt.

Police were called to Scharf Road shortly before noon with a report that a naked woman was attempting to kick down someone's front door.

"The victim confronted the woman and following a brief struggle the suspect fled to the rear of the woman’s property," Moskaluk said in a release.

She was found hiding in a shed and arrested.

Kennedy didn't know the woman and it's not clear what provoked the incident.

She says without a police presence, drugs will continue to be trafficked freely and there will be more incidents like the one Sunday.

"We have drugs on all sides and that is the issue for a lot of residents," she says. "But something also has to be done to help these kids because this isn't right. The Mexican (workers) that come in to Canada are looked after, it’s the migrant workers who are left out, nobody looks after those young people."

Sheila Kennedy says this is the laundry area at a West Kelowna fruit picker camp.
Sheila Kennedy says this is the laundry area at a West Kelowna fruit picker camp.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Adam Proskiw or call 250-718-0428 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2017
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