May 5, 2020 - No. 31
Governments to Account for COVID-19 Outbreaks Amongst
Asylum Seekers and Migrant Workers
• The Need to Defend Asylum Seekers in
Interview, Frantz André, Quebec-Haiti Solidarity Committee
• Defence Organization
Justicia for Migrant Workers Demands Protection for All Ontario Farm
Produce Migrant Workers' Plea for Help
• Fighting for
Migrant Workers and their Rights During COVID-19 - Interview, Maria Sol Pajadura,
Chairperson, Migrante Canada
Hold Governments to Account
for COVID-19 Outbreaks
Amongst Asylum Seekers and Migrant Workers
Demonstration in Montreal, December 2, 2018, defends the rights
of Haitian asylum seekers
calling for an end to deportations.
My name is Frantz André. I am from
Canada and I have been working full time with asylum seekers, mainly of
Haitian origin, for five years, since July 2017, at my own expense,
seven days a week. In the context of the pandemic, we all agree that we
cannot return to normal. Normal would be to continue doing business as
when we know that the system is broken and has brought us to the brink.
We have an opportunity to work together, so that "business as usual"
according to the rules of those who oppress us is no longer normal.
going to talk first about the situation of asylum seekers in the
Haitian community who are patient care attendants in residential and
long-term care centres (CHSLDs) and home care aides, and of those who
have no choice but to continue working despite the alarming increase in
cases of COVID-19 infection. Montreal North has become one
of the largest centres of infection in Quebec. It is home to the most
vulnerable people who are most at risk of becoming infected with
COVID-19 and they are my people, the Haitian people.
Since 2017, we have a large number of asylum
here in Canada who have arrived from the United States because they no
longer have Temporary Protected Status in the U.S., which was a
moratorium on deportations.
is important to know that the acceptance rate for asylum seekers of
Haitian origin between 2012 and 2016 was around 50 per cent. As early
as 2017, this rate decreased to 22 per cent and in 2018, to 10 per
cent. This large wave of Haitian refugee claimants arriving at our
borders happened because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote in a
Tweet: "To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, know that Canada
welcome you. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada." But for three
years now, the message seems to be: "Get out of Canada."
The majority of asylum seekers in 2017 were of
origin. They work as security guards, patient care attendants and home
care aides. They are my colleagues. In Montreal North, where there is a
high density of Haitians, they are the ones who become the most
infected. We have small apartments where from five to seven people live
the same space -- we like to live with our parents and our grandparents
and they are the ones who will be the most affected. Now we have people
benefits from this? Employment agencies that do not respect rights,
that do not pay them even minimum wage. They pick people up from their
homes, and drive them one and a half hours to two hours to work. After
they work eight hours, they have to come back again in a one and a half
to two hour trip, so three to four hours travelling,
11 to 12 hours in total. They sometimes travel in minivans with nine
passengers that are meant to take seven people normally, so you can
imagine the danger.
And who is stigmatized? The black population,
Haitians. We're the ones on the street. If you come to Montreal, look
at those who work morning and night, on the buses, in the subways, on
the streets, they are the racialized people. And that's not right. What
we are experiencing now is a crisis and that is what is happening to a
Can you tell us something
about the history of your demand for a moratorium on deportation of
Haitians and for providing asylum seekers with full workers' rights?
I will go back in
time. In 2018 there was a movement that started from here in Canada on
the issue of Petrocaribe funds. Oil was being sold by Venezuela at very
low prices to allow the Haitian government to free up funds for
reconstruction following the 2010 earthquake, and for social programs.
Moise-Lafontant government was in place at that time and wanted to
increase the price of oil because the IMF had said "No, we can no
longer continue to subsidize you." The population rose up. It was at
that time that I started asking for a moratorium to protect people who
were being refused and deported in an accelerated manner. My argument
was that Haiti was at such a level of insecurity that the government
could not continue to deport people to a country where there were riots
and people were being killed. The Canadian government didn't react
right away. Border officials continued to deport. The security
situation in Haiti reached a point of acute deterioration and Prime
Lafontant had to resign.
France and the United States then sent helicopters
pick up their nationals at the Decameron Hotel, one of the most
beautiful hotels in Haiti, to bring them home. Canada delayed doing the
same for a long time. We asked "If the U.S. and French governments did
it, why not you?" In July 2018, the government issued a notice to avoid
non-essential travel to Haiti because of the civil unrest in Haiti.
meant that the country was so insecure that no one should travel there.
People who have fled insecurity, who have come all the way to Canada,
who were facing exploitation and disrespect of their rights, of their
human rights according to international law, cannot be sent back to a
country that is totally insecure. These people are providers who
contribute economically and culturally, who abide by the laws, who do
not want to end up on welfare. They are future full-fledged citizens.
Citizenship has a special meaning for them in the sense that they want
to ensure that they are being recognized for their potential to
to Canadian society.
government had no choice but to put in place a temporary reprieve and
that moratorium has been extended. In 2019, an election year, in order
to win votes, they kept the temporary reprieve so we would not make too
much noise on the street. They increased the acceptance rate.
According to the
government the moratorium will
lifted until the level of security is acceptable. In Haiti, according
to our observations, the Haitian state has encouraged insecurity. Why
has it encouraged insecurity? With the popular mobilization that
condemned Jovenel Moise, the current president, for having participated
in a system of
corruption, the population is asking the government to account for the
billions of dollars that it received under the Petrocaribe plan for the
reconstruction of Haiti which was never done.
Our demand is to ensure that asylum seekers are
recognized as full-fledged workers with the same rights as everyone who
WF: What are
the latest developments in this situation?
FA: We have
noticed in recent months that
there are more middle class people asking to come to Canada because of
the terror in Haiti, a terror that is mainly state-organized. There are
kidnappings on the streets and ransom demands by groups connected to
the government. Insecurity is at its peak. Civil servants, doctors,
professionals are leaving Haiti to apply for asylum here because they
are most at risk of being kidnapped for ransom.
Among the difficulties encountered are the
between the different levels of the federal and Quebec governments.
Changes are frequent, without notice, and lawyers have difficulty
keeping up. We learn about changes through the plaintiffs.
It is important to remember that legal aid and
assistance are provincial. All refugee claimants are under federal
jurisdiction. This creates a conflict between Quebec's Minister of
Immigration Simon Jolin-Barrette and his federal counterpart.
Jolin-Barrette has no authority over refugee claimants. Quebec offers
social assistance and legal aid
services to people who are under federal jurisdiction. Due to lack of
funds, legal aid has become more restrictive in accepting applications.
As a result, many refugee claimants who would normally be eligible for
social assistance automatically are now refused and placed under a
discretionary power. Many of these people arrived with no more than
$500 in their pockets and I go with them to get social assistance. I
have to explain to the welfare staff that there is a moratorium, that
they will not be deported, so they are eligible for welfare.
Another problem is the filing of asylum
Both at the border and internally, border officials are overwhelmed.
Appointments to obtain proof of identity for the asylum seeker are
sometimes not given until two, three or even six weeks after their
arrival, because right from the beginning, border officials seized
their passports, national
identity cards and so on. Before they receive the document that
legitimizes that they are a refugee claimant, it takes weeks. Without
that document there is no social assistance. They find themselves in a
state of civil death, in a grey area, for two months or more.
example, a lady entered with her daughter in October 2019, with a visa,
legitimately. Another of her daughters, who has been here for years and
has permanent residence took them in. The lady wanted to enrol her
17-year-old daughter in school. But since she had not yet applied for
asylum, her daughter could not go to school. Before the
files were prepared and we were comfortable making the application for
asylum, it was already January. I went with the mother and daughter to
make the application. We handed over the documents. The woman and her
daughter were supposed to return to pick up her refugee claim document
on April 6. This document allows you to get legal aid,
open a bank account, etc. That day, because of the pandemic, the
offices were closed. So they still do not have the required papers and
therefore don't have social assistance.
This is the reality for people who entered Canada
legitimately, who are asylum seekers, and who need the services, but
are penalized in various ways, by government administrative slowness or
by Quebec's refusal to provide automatic assistance (legal aid and
social assistance). Meanwhile, they have no work permits and are forced
under the table. They are also exposed to violence. For example
employers take advantage of workers who don't have legal status. To
survive many are silent about mistreatment. In some cases, women
prostitute themselves, fall into the hands of pimps, and men get beaten
up in the workplace and won't go to court.
In conclusion, I want to emphasize that asylum
must be recognized as full-fledged workers with the same rights as all
those who work here.
Temporary Protected Status
(TPS) is a program created by the U.S. Congress in 1990, that allows
foreign nationals to remain in the U.S. if, while they were in the
U.S., something catastrophic happened in their country of origin that
prevented their safe return. Examples include war, famine,
natural disaster, or epidemic. TPS protects people from deportation and
allows them to work legally while they remain in the U.S. The program
is a temporary form of relief that does not confer permanent residency,
citizenship, or any right to ongoing immigration status. TPS status was
granted to tens of thousands of Haitians when the deadly
earthquake struck their country in 2010, followed by a cholera epidemic
and hurricanes. In 2017, the Trump administration ended TPS status for
people from Haiti, El Salvador, Nicaragua and other countries. Because
of mass protests and lawsuits against the federal administration, the
Department of Homeland Security extended TPS for a number
of countries, including Haiti, through January 4, 2021, pending a
decision from the lawsuits.
Faced with the threat of deportation and because
are denied entry into Canada through its regular border crossing with
the U.S. because of the Safe Third Country Agreement, many Haitians
seeking refuge began crossing into Canada irregularly through Roxham
Road, located in Hemmingford, Quebec, a small town in Quebec's Eastern
In 2017, 24,980 asylum claims were presented in
In 2018, that number rose to 27,970, of which 66 per cent were
submitted by people who entered irregularly (with 18,518 intercepted by
Canadian authorities). Of these, Haiti was among the top five countries
of origin for asylum seekers.
The World Bank recognizes Haiti as the poorest
in the Western Hemisphere, with millions of people living below the
extreme poverty line. In 2004, Canada, along with the U.S. and France,
participated in regime change in that country, thereby removing Haiti's
democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Montreal North is home to many
Quebeckers of Haitian origin as well as many Haitian permanent
residents, refugees and asylum seekers. It is Montreal's hardest hit
borough with regard to COVID-19.
As of May 1, public health data showed 1,316
cases of COVID-19 in Montreal North an infection rate of 1, 562 per
100,000 people. For comparison, Montreal overall has 804 cases per
100,000 people, whereas areas of Quebec outside Montreal and its
suburbs have 101 cases per 100,000. Why is the rate of infection so
In Canada, refugees, refugee claimants, protected
persons or their family members, those under an unenforceable removal
order or who are temporary resident permit holders or young workers
participating in special programs can apply for an open work permit
that is not job-specific. Many of them are recruited by agencies to
long-term care facilities (CHSLDs) and private seniors' residences as
patient attendants. They earn $14-15 per hour. The agency then bills
the residence a much higher amount and it keeps the difference. As it
becomes increasingly difficult for these facilities to find people to
work at low wages and exploitative conditions, the agencies make sure
they benefit even more by billing at even higher rates. Others of these
workers are hired by agencies to work in meat-processing plants. Each
morning, some half dozen workers are picked up by an agency in a single
van and driven to their workplace, often more than an hour's drive away.
La Presse journalist Yves
one such worker, who had arrived in 2018 seeking asylum through the
Roxham Road irregular crossing. Her claim as well as her appeal have
been refused by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. Her only
remaining option is to apply for permanent residency based on
humanitarian and compassionate grounds. Her husband died in 2004 and
she has four children, three of whom live in Haiti and who she sends
the little money she earns to help support them. When she first arrived
in Quebec in 2018, she was hired to work in a pork slaughterhouse. She
then took a course to work with seniors.
She explained that before having contracted the
she had worked for an agency in two separate seniors' residences and
that two of her co-workers died after contracting the coronavirus --
one a woman she did not know well and the other a refugee in his
A second woman living in Montreal North
the same journalist had been working in Valleyfield, again through an
agency and earning low wages. She also entered the country irregularly
through Roxham Road three years ago and has also contracted COVID-19.
She recounted that just prior to the 2016 election in Haiti, people
had entered her home, killed her nephew and beaten her up. Since then,
she has had difficulty walking. Upon her arrival in Canada she worked
in a factory which was too physically straining for her, which is why
she became a patient attendant. She is still waiting for test results
to find out if she is now clear of the virus.
Organizations active in defending migrant workers
stepping up their fight in defence of all farm workers. The most
vulnerable farm workers are the over 60,000 seasonal and temporary
workers who come to Canada each year to work in the agriculture
industry. Many arrive through federal programs such as the Seasonal
Worker Program (SAWP).
In March, the federal government granted farmers
ability to hire migrant workers throughout the pandemic, so long as the
workers self-isolate for two weeks upon arrival. This condition,
,however, does not apply to those deemed essential by public health
officials. This means that some migrant workers are forced to work
period of self-isolation. The federal government also shamefully washed
its hands of the responsibility to ensure the ways and means through
which migrant farm workers can practice social distancing at work and
in their lodgings. Migrant farm workers typically live in inadequate
housing that is shared by a large number of workers. In spite of
this, the federal government has decreed that farm businesses, in
conjunction with the provinces, are the best positioned to provide
Migrant farmworkers prepare to leave Jamaica for their jobs on Canadian
On May 1, Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW)
Ontario Premier Doug Ford, and to the members of the Ontario Command
Table for COVID-19, to demand that urgent and immediate steps be taken
by the Ontario government to protect farm workers. 
The letter says: "Justicia for Migrant Workers
writing to request urgent and immediate action is taken to protect the
thousands of agricultural workers employed in the province of Ontario.
With recent reports that there have been confirmed cases at two large
farming operations, Highline Mushrooms and Greenhill Produce, it is
imperative that the province responds.
is asking what steps will the province undertake to protect the
interests of farm workers, and to protect the food supply chain. We
urge the province to immediately suspend any agricultural workplace
from operating until the workplace is fully sanitized and the workers
are provided with full Personal Protective Equipment while at
work. Furthermore workers should be paid full wages during the
sanitization process. Finally it is imperative that Ministry of Labour
inspectors extend their inspections to include bunkhouses and all
agricultural dwellings provided to farm workers. Finally it is also
critical that the province develop a COVID-19 action plan to protect
specifically in agriculture.
"J4MW is urging that the provincial government and
Ministry of Labour undertake immediate steps to eliminate blatant
discrimination against farm workers so that all farm workers can be
protected from the spread of the pandemic. These steps include:
the wage boost to include farm workers in Ontario [wage
boost refers to wage increase and special bonuses that the Ontario
government granted to some of the workers providing front-line services
during the pandemic for which farm workers are not eligible - WF Note]
- Provide an
appeals process for migrant workers when filing complaints with respect
to occupational health and safety and employment standards complaints.
- Migrant farm
workers should be provided the ability to work so that they are not
tied to a single employer.
occupational health and safety legislation to include agricultural
protections to ensure workers are not fired for raising health and
safety concerns or if they become sick or injured at work.
protect workers from heat stress, chemical or pesticide. exposure,
confined spaces, working at heights and other occupational hazards.
proactive and snap inspection on all farming operations across Ontario
- Provide hazard
pay, sick pay and other benefits to recognize the dangers associated
with agricultural work.
piece rate as an occupational health and safety hazard.
Develop and implement occupational health and safety legislation that
recognizes, race, racism, systemic discrimination and provides an
equity analysis in determining which categories of workers are at
greater risk of occupational hazards.
the WSIB has in place to isolate infected workers (and protect
uninfected workers) if there is an outbreak in the bunkhouse or
- End employer
deductions for all personal protective equipment and develop
regulations that ensure employers provide bathrooms, washing facilities
and potable water for farm workers across Ontario.
migrant worker protection against recruitment fees by holding employers
and recruiters jointly liable.
- End the
holiday pay, overtime pay, minimum hours of work provisions and the
myriad of regulations that deny fairness to farmworkers."
JAMW points out that these measures are
requests that farm workers have been bringing forward for decades. It
says that to stamp out the spread of this pandemic, it is critical that
structural changes are made to address the systemic power imbalances
that exist in the fields.
"These structural inequities in agriculture work
exacerbated under the twin forces of the pandemic and harvesting
pressures. It has therefore never been more imperative to provide the
workers with all the rights and protections. Farm employers are
receiving several benefits in the form of subsidies and other grants
and other regulatory
exemptions. It is time that the workers receive the benefits that are
due to them and are valued for their essential labour, " says the
letter in conclusion.
Ontario Command Table for
COVID-19 was set up by the Ontario government at the beginning of
March. According to the government, the Command Table is the "single
point of oversight providing executive leadership and strategic
direction to guide Ontario's response to COVID-19.
" The Command Table reports to the Minister of Health. It is chaired by
the Deputy Minister of Health, and includes Ontario's Chief Medical
Officer of Heath, Ontario Health's President and Chief Executive
Officer, and has representation from Public Health Ontario, the
Ministry of Long-Term Care and Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills
Guatemalan migrant farm workers in Canada.
On its web site, Justicia for Migrant Workers
the following letter that it received and that it wants to share widely
in light of recent reports about the outbreak of COVID-19 at Greenhill
Produce in Chatham-Kent, Ontario. According to the medical officer of
health for Chatham-Kent, as of April 27, 40 workers tested positive for
COVID-19 among the workforce of about 100 workers. On May 4 it was
reported the number had risen to 51. As of the date of
the letter, April 28, 2020, all the workers had been tested, and 22
tests had come back negative. The majority of the workers at Greenhill
Produce who have tested positive for the disease are migrant workers,
but most are not new arrivals, having been in Canada four months
to one year or more. Greenhill Produce grows sweet peppers.
The letter from a worker at Greenhill Produce
"We the farm
workers of Greenhill produce feel a bit
outcast like we are the least we feel a bit disrespect... guys test
result positive and guys test result negative from Sunday April 22 and
up to this date April 24 we the positive and the negative are living in
the same house using the same utensils, same bathroom, doing everything
is wrong only told they are following the health procedures... we ask
for sanitizers to help kill the spreading of the virus in such a
crowded place until now none. Thanks to God some guys always buy bleach
that's what we have to be using...we gave them food list we get what is
the Canadian norm of shopping.
"We want a voice we are so afraid to talk, we are
afraid we get sent back home. This is our JOB this is how we survive
this is how we take care of our family back home. Without this God help
so we are grateful for the job we are happy for it but we need to be
treated as equal as everyone. Liaison officers who should be our
haven't seen nor hear from them. We have to speak out for us, we want
feel comfortable working that if we get injured we are treated equal.
This could have been avoided this is a part of negligence. When workers
took sick, they took too long before medical attention and still going
to work then it spread... please please hear our cry."
Caregivers contingent in International Women's
Day 2020 in Toronto.
Workers' Forum is posting
below an interview with
Maria Sol Pajadura, Chairperson of Migrante Canada, a Canada-wide
defence organization for migrant workers from the Philippines and other
Workers' Forum: Migrante
Canada does a lot
of work providing practical assistance to migrant workers. Can you
speak a bit about how COVID-19 is impacting different sectors of
migrant workers, food industry, caregivers and so on and what projects
Migrante has taken up to assist these workers?
Sol Pajadura: COVID-19
has affected migrant workers directly. For example, since the
announcement of lockdown in Ontario and other provinces, migrant
workers in the food industry, construction and other workplaces such as
cleaning services and restaurants have been laid off. Those migrant
workers without status are
even in a worse off situation because they are more vulnerable and are
not eligible for benefits of any kind. For those still working such as
in private elder care, some employees are insisting that they remain in
the house and be available 24/7 without any additional pay under threat
of losing their jobs and therefore risk becoming ineligible for
Migrante Canada has set up Kapitbisig Laban (link
COVID, a mutual aid network in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg,
Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal to assist and support migrant workers who
have lost their jobs and help them secure food and money through
financial and in-kind donations. We also try to find jobs for these
workers, if we can. We also talk to them regularly to make sure that
they are not isolated. The isolation is hard on their mental health and
well-being, especially those with no status who are facing great
anxiety not knowing how they will support their families who are
depending on them back home.
migrant workers have been deemed
"essential" during the pandemic, for example agricultural workers, food
and service industry workers, yet they are denied any supports that the
federal and provincial governments have put into place. Can you speak a
bit about this situation?
MSP: If a
migrant worker has papers, they
are eligible for EI or the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. We help
those who are eligible with their applications. It is the ones who have
no status or who came to Canada and then find themselves without a job
because of unscrupulous recruiters and Canada's refusal to protect
migrant workers, who are facing the most difficulty. They find
themselves isolated and with no access to EI, health care or any other
benefits. It is the same for those with no status. They have family
back home depending on them and this not only causes mental anguish for
the worker, but the family they support face starvation and suffering
in the Philippines. It is inhumane.
is part of the campaign of
the Caregivers Action Centre and others calling for the federal
government to grant landed status for all migrant workers on arrival to
Canada. Can you inform our readers about that campaign?
we are actually part of the Migrant Rights Network that is calling on
the federal government to act now to ensure that migrant workers,
including those without status, be given landed status and all
benefits that they deserve as workers, as human beings. We are saying
that if these workers are "essential" and
COVID-19 has clearly shown migrant workers play a critical role in the
economy and society, then their contribution must be recognized and
they should receive landed status and all benefits such as healthcare,
EI and other supports. We are also calling on the Trudeau government to
regularize the status of undocumented migrant workers so that they
can remain and continue to work openly. We state that these workers are
not criminals but are victims of a system that preys on their
vulnerability. That is our demand. It is high time Canada stopped the
exploitation and abuse of migrant workers and treated them like human
To find out more about Kapitbisig Laban COVID
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