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Migrant worker's widow makes the trek north for his body

Patricia Aguilar, the widow of Peruvian migrant worker Enrique Leon, touches a photo of her and her long-time partner in Toronto on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012.

Michelle Siu for The Globe and Mail/michelle siu The Globe and Mail

Patricia Aguilar, a newly widowed 44-year-old, made a long and lonely journey from Lima to Kitchener this past weekend. She had felt uniquely compelled to see the body of her husband, and the scene of his death in Canada, before he was returned to Peru for burial.

"We know you are not in this world. You are with God now. But I know you will always take care of me and the children," she recalled saying in the hours she watched over his body at a Kitchener funeral home. "I love you," she told him.

The body of Enrique Leon lay in the casket, appearing to his wife thinner and older than when she had last seen her husband. They had talked together by Internet video through Microsoft Messenger one day before the Feb. 6 accident.

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The Peruvian, a former professional soccer player, was among 10 migrant farm workers killed two weeks ago when a van carrying the group was struck at a country crossroads. Three Peruvians were badly injured and a London truck driver was also killed in the collision.

Ms. Aguilar is the only relative known to have come to Canada to see the body of a loved one before the corpses were flown back to Peru on Monday.

Speaking on Tuesday at a Tim Hortons in Toronto, Ms. Aguilar said her feelings have whipsawed from searing anger to profound sorrow. But she added that there's also been room for a sense of gratitude to grow.

"I've been treated like a queen," she said, expressing gratitude that officials at the Ontario Workplace Safety Insurance Board paid for her plane trip to Canada. Due to return to Peru on Wednesday, she has been shepherded around by compassionate Canadians who had been complete strangers.

"My wish was to come see my husband where he lived," Ms. Aguilar said through tears while folding her tissues into tiny squares. She said the accident not only took her husband's life – it may also rob her 14-year-old daughter and six-year-old son of a future.

Mr. Leon's two-year visa to work in Canada was due to expire in the spring, but he had planned on signing up for another stint. His hope was that he would get immigration status and bring over his children, so that they could study at Canadian schools and become professionals.

"I hope it is still possible," said Ms. Aguilar, wondering if her children still have any chance at moving to Canada.

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She recalled that, a few years ago, she urged a family friend to give her husband a job at his Kitchener business that hired foreigners to inoculate chickens.

"I don't blame nobody," Ms. Aguilar said on Tuesday. But she added she was initially furious after the accident. Yet she couldn't decide whether she was mad at Alejandro Carrion, the Peruvian entrepreneur, or David Blancas Hernandez, the migrant worker who drove the vanload of his countrymen into the intersection, or even Chris Fulton, the Canadian truck driver whose rig hit the van.

But Ms. Aguilar discovered there were no easy answers in Canada.

Over the weekend, she journeyed out to the fateful intersection. She discovered no smoking gun. Only a stop sign that should have prevented the van from entering into oncoming traffic but somehow failed to do so.

Today, Ms. Aguilar said, she can start welling up whenever she sees a stop sign. And about the only thing she knows for certain is how the accident has affected her.

"I was destroyed," she sobbed.

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With a report from Renata D'Aliesio

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About the Author
National security reporter

Focusing on Canadian matters during the past decade, Colin Freeze has reported extensively on the interplay between government, police, spy services, and the judiciary. Colin has twice been to Afghanistan to be embedded with the Canadian military. More

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