A sombre bilingual vigil for three fallen farm workers drew more than 150 participants Sunday to the Abbotsford Civic Plaza.
Six years after the three women lost their lives in the crash of an overloaded workers' van, a scale model of a Farm Workers' Monument to be installed at Mill Lake was unveiled as the victims' families gathered in grief.
"We are overjoyed with this beautiful monument, designed in remembrance of our lost wives and mothers," said Jagjit Sidhu, husband of deceased worker Sarabjit Sidhu. "It represents our continued struggle to make farm workers safer. We are proud to dedicate this monument to all farm workers in B.C."
The Golden Tree Monument Project hopes to unveil the tree sculpture in 2014. The provincial government and WorkSafe BC have committed $100,000 to the project.
At the same time, family and friends of Sarabjit Sidhu, Amarjit Bal, and Sukhvinder Punia are pressing for greater accountability on the part of companies that transport workers back and forth to the fields.
"The lives of these workers are sacred and important," B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair told the crowd. "We continue to fight to ensure there is justice."
Sinclair said companies must be severely punished when workers lose their lives - not as in this accident, when the company declared bankruptcy and criminal charges were never laid despite a recommendation from the RCMP. Several other women in the van were also seriously injured in the crash.
The gathering also heard poems and poignant memories from families of the deceased before lighting candles in the women's honour.
"Even though it was six years ago, it seems like it was six seconds ago," said Gurcharan Dhillon, one of nine speakers who gave speeches in Punjabi and English.
Once sufficient funds have been raised, the six-metre-high golden tree sculpture, believed to be the first in Canada dedicated to farm workers, will be erected in Abbotsford's Mill Lake Park. Local artist Dean Lauzé will do the work.