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Unfree migrant labour; legal consciousness; racialization; migrant housing; municipal planning law


The paper tackles the recent controversy surrounding an application to convert an abandoned school into housing for migrant agricultural workers in Ontario, Canada. It examines how the written reactions of community residents to a proposed municipal zoning by-law amendment convey and invoke understandings of the legal regulation of temporary labour migration. When viewed through a legal consciousness analytic lens, reconstituted to attend to the material practices and context underpinning residents’ discursive and ideological responses, what I term a ‘materialist legal consciousness studies’, it is evident that the residents’ submissions intervene in the organization and regulation of agricultural production. While framed in opposition to the proposed amendment and the rules on siting bunk houses, residents’ responses -- which rehearse well-worn, racist colonial tropes -- (re)produce material outcomes affecting the working and social lives of migrant agricultural workers in southwestern Ontario. I argue that residents’ overwhelming opposition to the bunk house proposal re-inscribes and even extends the unfree labour relations and conditions in which these workers toil and dwell. In so doing, residents perpetuate growers’ control not merely of labour power but in fact over racialized labouring bodies, deepening the regulatory immobilization and hyper-exploitation of migrant workers.

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