A French Canadian fruit picker has just arrived in Keremeos for the harvest season, but with nowhere to stay he’s pitched a tent along the banks of the Similkameen River.
Soon the unincorporated area of Crown land will be a temporary home to as many as 150 riverbed campers —; mostly transients but also a handful of fruit pickers.
“Most places they don’t [provide housing] so people have to stay at this campground,” said Olivier Gourde.
He’s referring to the orchardists who are not legally required to provide accommodation to Canadian workers, although they are required to provide housing for temporary foreign workers.
However many employers do allow Canadian workers to camp on their properties.
“The big conventional farms, they tend to neglect a lot of the employees and be too much into the money, money, money thing. So they want to save a lot of money and this is neglecting the quality of living of the employees basically,” Gourde said.
Some residents are expressing concern about the unsanctioned campground, citing issues with garbage, damage to the environment, the threat to at-risk species, and public health.
“There are no facilities here. There are no washrooms. There are no hand washing facilities. There is nowhere to cook a meal,” said resident Teresa Roesch.
Roesch said the problem has grown out of control.
“I think that the orchardists in the area, this problem stems directly from them not supporting their workers. They hire them but they don’t house them,” said Roesch.
The Village of Keremeos asked the province for a land tenure so it can enforce its parks bylaw which includes a ban on overnight camping.
“Right now the area is not within the village boundary so that makes it difficult for us,” said Mayor Manfred Bauer.
Bauer said he’s also advocated for years for improved living conditions for farm workers.
“I’ve lived here for 30 years and I would say it has incredibly improved in terms of providing amenities simply because the orchardists need the labour,” he said.
But Gourde said there still needs to be further protections.
“You think of the human right thing and there is still alot to be done,” he said.
The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations said it could not comment during the election period.