Hampstead crash survivor improves in hospital
The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, February 9, 2012 7:20PM EST
TORONTO - At least one of the survivors of this week's horrific collision in rural southwestern Ontario is improving in hospital, but it's unclear what kind of future the living victims face.
A victims' group working with migrant workers injured on the job is raising concerns that the three survivors will have supports cut off or will be deported to Peru.
Ten poultry farm workers and a truck driver were killed Monday in Hampstead, Ont., when a van carrying the workers drove through a stop sign and into the path of the truck.
Three migrant workers from Peru survived the carnage of what police called a violent collision and one has now had his condition upgraded.
Juan Ariza, 35, was initially taken to hospital in nearby Stratford in critical condition, but the hospital says he was transferred Wednesday to London, Ont., in stable condition.
The London Health Sciences Centre says Ariza is now listed there in fair condition, along with fellow survivor Javier Abelardo Alba-Medina, 38, who is also at the hospital listed in fair condition.
Edgar Sulla-Puma, 26, was airlifted from the crash site to Hamilton General Hospital. Police said Wednesday he was in critical condition, but the hospital said Thursday his family doesn't want further updates released publicly.
The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board has said it will support the families by covering funeral and burial expenses, including repatriation to their country of origin, as well as financial support and bereavement counselling.
The WSIB said Thursday it will provide support to the injured workers through wage-loss benefits and full health care coverage, including recovery and rehabilitation services.
But the Industrial Accident Victims Group of Ontario says often when injured migrant workers recover enough to work, but not at the job they were doing before, the wage-loss benefits get cut off. The workers are told to find another job, but having been brought to Canada on an employer-specific visa they can't, and are sent back to their country of origin, said Jessica Ponting.
"It's absurd that migrant workers are being told to get a job in Ontario, when everybody involved knows that they can't, and then cut off compensation as a result," she said.
"It's a systemic problem. It happens in almost all of our cases."
An official with Citizenship and Immigration Canada said temporary workers in such a situation would not be "proactively" deported. Whether they are able to work or not, they can stay in the country for the term of the contract under which they entered Canada, the official said.
It's not clear under what program the workers came to Canada or what visas they may have had.
Even determining the wage-loss benefits for these workers will be difficult, Ponting predicted, since some of them had only been on the job for one day. The WSIB said in general, wage-loss benefits can be paid up to age 65.
Ponting said based on her experience she expects these workers will receive benefits for a much shorter time period, noting it's usually a "precarious" situation, even for Ontario-born workers.
"There's a lot of publicity around this case," she said. "So I'm hoping it will last for a very long time."
Relatives of one the victims say many of the 13 people in the van were related. La Republica, a newspaper in Peru, reported that seven of those killed were from one family and the others were fathers and sons.
The family of four of the people killed has approached a Toronto lawyer, who says they are in the process of retaining him.
Juan Carranza said the family will need help with WSIB claims and he will be looking into whether there are any liability angles to pursue such as mechanical or product liability issues with the van.
"You can't rule anything out at this juncture," Carranza said. "As you can imagine, these families depended immensely on the ability of the breadwinner."
All of the workers in the van -- except one man originally from Nicaragua -- were Peruvian, some of whom arrived in Canada days before their deaths and some of whom had well-established lives here.
The driver, David Armando Hernandez Blancas, 45, was one of the workers killed in the crash and had been in Ontario for some time, living in New Hamburg, not far from the crash site. He had an Ontario driver's licence, but not the type required to drive a van of that size, police say.
The truck driver, Christopher Fulton, 38, from London, was also killed. His employer, Speedy Transport CEO Jared Martin, said Fulton was celebrating his 11th wedding anniversary on the day of the crash.
Speedy Transport announced Thursday that it has set up a trust fund to help the Fulton family. Donations can be made through CIBC.
Two other funds have also been set up to help the families of the victims.
Donations to a fund set up by the United Food and Commercial Workers union and the Agriculture Workers Alliance can be made through PayPal or TD Canada Trust. Donations to a Township of Perth East fund can be made at any CIBC branch.
In addition to the driver, the workers killed were: Jose Mercedes Valdiviezo-Taboada, 49, Cesar Augusto Sanchez-Palacios, 53, Enrique Arturo Leon, 47, Corsino Jaramillo, 47, Mario Abril, 48, Oscar Compomanes-Corzo, Juan Castillo, Elvio Bravo-Suncion and Fernando Correa.
Police are still trying to determine the ages of four of the victims.
The van was capable of carrying 15 people and Ontario law requires the driver of a vehicle that transports more than 11 passengers hold at least a class F licence, but the driver had only a regular G licence, police said.