May 26, 2020 - No. 36

All Out to Uphold the Rights of
Temporary Foreign Workers
and Asylum Seekers!

Oppose Unconscionable Government Attempts to Criminalize Asylum Seekers and Justify Immoral Crimes Against Them - Diane Johnston
• Quebec Government Quashes Motion Recognizing Invaluable Contribution of Asylum Seekers and Calling on Canadian Government to Regularize Their Status • Call to Regularize Status of Essential Workers - Guillaume Cliche-Rivard, President, Quebec Immigration Lawyers Association
• Ontario Migrant Farm Workers Hit by COVID-19 - Steve Rutchinski
• Nova Scotia Federation of Labour Demands Health Care Coverage Be Extended to Uninsured Residents

The Need to Make Transit Workers Safe
Workers Call for Mandatory Face Masks on Public Transit

United States
Sanitation Workers in New Orleans on Strike to Demand Better Conditions
and Pay

All Out to Uphold the Rights of
Temporary Foreign Workers and Asylum Seekers!

Oppose Unconscionable Government Attempts
to Criminalize Asylum Seekers and Justify
Immoral Crimes Against Them

Many organizations in Quebec and across Canada are working together to uphold the rights of asylum seekers and temporary foreign workers who are on the front line of fighting COVID-19. Besides rescuing them from the abhorrent situations in which unjust government treatment has placed them, these organizations are upholding the just demand that the Quebec and federal governments need to create a special program that would regularize the status of these workers in this country.

On March 18, when asked by a journalist about asylum seekers entering irregularly into Canada, Quebec Premier François Legault responded, "It's unacceptable. We cannot permit people to enter illegally without at least placing them in quarantine. I have therefore already discussed this issue on a number of occasions with the federal government." The very next day, Prime Minister Trudeau, as part of his decision to close the Canada-U.S. border, announced that his government would no longer allow asylum seekers to enter Canada irregularly through such crossings as Roxham Road, in Quebec's Eastern Townships.

People seeking safety in Canada cross the border irregularly in order to avoid being sent back to the U.S. under the Safe Third Country Agreement, which closes Canada's door to most refugee claimants at the official points of entry. In closing such crossings, it is Canada which is acting "irregularly" in violation of the very essence of conventions which establish how and why countries are duty-bound to welcome refugees and the standard of treatment they must receive.

The utter lack of humanity shown asylum seekers by the likes of the federal government, the Quebec government and the Conservative Party reveals not only their contempt for asylum seekers but also for the rule of law. Their contemptible treatment of asylum seekers is carried out in the name of the rule of law. In fact, they rule in our name and they do these things in our name. It must not pass!

For Premier Legault and others to declare that asylum seekers enter Canada illegally is unfounded. It promotes the same notion of criminality that the Trudeau Liberal government attempted to introduce in July 2018 when the Prime Minister appointed former Toronto police chief Bill Blair to the newly created position, Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction. Through sleight of hand, the Liberal government found a way to link vulnerable migrants with border security and organized crime. By making the irregular crossing of asylum seekers through Roxham Road and elsewhere in Canada an issue of law and order, asylum seekers have been turned into a criminal category, all in the name of upholding fair treatment and the rule of law. This is unconscionable. It shows they are not fit to govern and that Canadians must uphold the basic principle that might does not make right.

More recently, on May 8, during the federal ministers' and health officials' update on COVID-19, a Quebec journalist commented that although many Haitian asylum seekers who entered Canada in 2017 are working in Montreal residential and long-term care centres and seniors' residences at the risk of their lives, their refugee claims have been refused.

"Regarding the issue of asylum seekers, as you know very well, Canada has a system, a just system, a very well-regulated system, to determine who has the right to asylum in Canada," responded Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland with all the self-righteousness and arrogance she could muster. "And it's important that as a country where there is rule of law, that we continue [...] to be that," she said.

This typical neo-liberal evasive bluster shows the utter contempt of the Liberals and their government for rule of law. Canada's system is not just nor does it uphold the principles of international refugee law and it is inhumane. The Liberals are past masters at doublespeak which ensures the essence of every matter is left in the shade or discarded altogether. Their responses to valid questions of concern to the polity and the people is unconscionable. It shows that it is up to Canadians to stand up for asylum seekers, refugees, migrant workers, temporary foreign workers and all others who are particularly vulnerable to neo-liberal governments who treat them as "easy prey." All power to the organizations across the country who spare no efforts to uphold the rights of the most vulnerable people in our society.

Condemn the arrogance of those rulers who commit crimes against human persons in the name of rights, justice and law.

Our Security Lies in the Fight for the Rights of All!

(With files from CPAC, TML Weekly. Quotations translated from original French by TML.)

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 Quebec Government Quashes Motion Recognizing Invaluable Contribution of Asylum Seekers and
Calling on Canadian Government to
Regularize Their Status

On May 13, during a sitting of the Quebec National Assembly, where the invaluable contribution of health care workers on the front line of fighting the pandemic was being discussed and highlighted, Catherine Fournier, Independent Member for the riding of Marie-Victorin, in agreement with Monique Sauvé, Liberal Party Member (Fabre); Sol Zanetti, Québéc Solidaire Member (Jean-Lesage);  and Guy Ouellette, Independent Member (Chomedey), rose to present the following motion without notice:

"That the National Assembly recognize the contribution of hundreds of asylum seekers, mainly of Haitian origin, presently working as patient attendants in Quebec's CHSLDs [Residential and Long Term Care Centres];

"That it request that the Canadian government quickly regularize their immigration status, while recognizing the work they have done during the present health emergency."

To debate the motion in the National Assembly required the unanimous consent of all the parties. When asked by the Leader of the National Assembly if there was consent, Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) Deputy House Leader Éric Caire responded that there was no consent, thereby quashing any debate on the motion.

Two days later during Premier Legault's daily press update on COVID-19, a journalist from In Texto, a newspaper addressing itself to Montreal's Haitian community, asked the Premier if what had transpired in the National Assembly was also his position.

"Let's begin by speaking in general terms about asylum seekers," Legault answered. "We've spoken about this at length over the last year, about all those who enter through Roxham Road. Within the framework of the pandemic, even Mr. Trudeau does not want us to be receiving asylum seekers that enter through Roxham Road. We've locked the borders and [...] we discussed with Mr. Trudeau yesterday evening about extending that closure by a month. That's one thing. This does not mean that with regard to asylum seekers, including members of the Haitian community, that there are not good people there who have come to work in our CHSLDs. These are two separate files. [...] [W]e have two members of the Haitian community in our Cabinet and I am aware of the problem of the Haitian community in certain Montreal neighourhoods. And by the way, that's why, amongst other reasons, we're giving a million masks to [Montreal Mayor] Valérie Plante, so that she can distribute them freely in neighbourhoods where it's more difficult.

"So I think that the two files have to be separated. Asylum seekers are one thing," Legault continued, "So let's not mix up the refugee file -- people going through Roxham Road, with the file on the Haitian community."

The journalist responded, "No, it's because they are here, Mr. Legault, because they are here. But that does not answer my question, Mr. Legault. Do you back that position?"

Legault replied, "Well listen, what I understand from your question, what was being asked was to support the arrival of asylum seekers." He then said, "Within the framework of the pandemic, neither the Quebec government nor the Canadian government supports that at present. I am therefore also not a proponent."

The journalist then interjected to clarify that his question did not relate to the matter Legault gave his opinion about, saying, "No, it's not about them coming ...."  at which point he was cut off as someone asked for the next question.

(With files from Quebec National Assembly, CPAC, In Texto. All quotations translated from original French by TML.)

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Call to Regularize Status of Essential Workers

On the front lines with our seniors in CHSLDs [residential and long-term care centres] or behind the scenes in our grocery stores and food processing plants, these essential workers have played, are playing and will continue to play a crucial role in the proper functioning of our lives in society. We believe that it is time for their contribution to be recognized and call upon the federal government to quickly regularize their immigration status.

Indeed, at a time when the risks have increased and when it has never been so dangerous to get to work, they have not given up and are demonstrating each and every day their loyalty, courage and unwavering love for their land of refuge. They actually watch over us at all hours of the day and night and are fighting with us to defeat this adversary that recognizes no borders.

Far removed from the limelight, they represent a key component in the often already precarious equilibrium of our institutions, notably in the area of health care, and take on an often unenviable job, without knowing for how long their own security and that of their family can be ensured.

It is actually without any guarantee of their future in Canada that day in, day out, they prove their essential role in our society.

These workers risk their lives for us without knowing whether they'll be able to remain in the country with their children fully integrated in our schools, developing and forming a Canadian identity for themselves with their friends and teachers. Every day they end their shifts not knowing if they will be forced to abandon their family and friends, with whom they have developed strong ties in Canada, often under very difficult conditions.

They contribute, day after day, to the betterment of our society without knowing whether or not the lives they have built here will go up in smoke. Without knowing whether they themselves will remain safe for long in Canada, they go off to work to save lives, our lives.

This hell of uncertainty may last for years, during which the risk of being deported becomes more and more difficult to bear and dignity slowly evaporates as a result of feeling invisible and nonexistent. Every day that weight  on their shoulders becomes heavier, until their psychological distress is palpable.

Is it not high time that we show them our gratitude, by regularizing their status and formally recognizing their contribution to our society? Is it not time that we extricate our guardian angels from the hell caused by the uncertainty of their future and that of their children?

It is now our turn to ensure that they are protected.

(La Presse, May 21, 2020. Translated from original French by TML.)

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Ontario Migrant Farm Workers Hit by COVID-19

Migrant farmers at Greenhill Produce in Kent Bridge, in southwestern Ontario, were reportedly the first to have experienced an outbreak of COVID-19 on an Ontario farm. Greenhill Produce is a hydroponic operation specialized in growing a variety of bell peppers. The outbreak there was first reported on April 28 with the number of confirmed cases rising steadily, reaching 100 on May 21.  

The Chatham-Kent Public Health Unit reported 14 new cases on May 15, bringing the total at Greenhill to 81 confirmed cases -- 78 of them migrant workers living in bunkhouse conditions and the other three Chatham-Kent residents. That amounted to two-thirds of Chatham-Kent's 121 total confirmed COVID-19 cases at the time. The 100 confirmed cases reported on May 21 include 13 "contract workers" brought in daily from Leamington where they are housed in hotels and motels and are currently self-isolating. Their cases are not included in the numbers reported by the Chatham-Kent Health Unit, but by the neighbouring Windsor-Essex Public Health Unit.

Meanwhile at a greenhouse in Leamington, another 14 migrant contract workers, also included in the numbers reported by the Windsor-Essex Public Health Unit, were reported as testing positive. On May 25, the Windsor-Essex Medical Officer of Health announced in his daily update that 33 of the 36 new confirmed cases were farm workers linked to "many" of the 170 agri-food facilities in the area. He said those affected were both migrant workers living in residences attached to farms and local workers living in the community.  Elsewhere, the Haldimand-Norfolk Public Heath Unit has reported eight temporary farm workers have tested positive for COVID-19 and has expressed concerns about the viability of the region's medical facilities given the large number of migrant farm workers employed in that region.

In discussing the Greenhill Produce outbreak, Chris Ramsaroop, speaking on behalf of Justice for Migrant Workers which advocates for foreign contract workers, said, "This is something that was preventable." He said "For the past couple of weeks, we've been trying to sound the alarm about the spread of the pandemic on farms." Ramsaroop is calling for increased inspections and the regulation of bunkhouse-type housing and greater access to personal protective equipment for farm workers to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Migrant farm workers, on arrival in Canada, are put into quarantine for 14 days. That means those who have become infected, contracted the disease here. Bunkhouse living conditions are a significant contributing factor. While governments at the federal and provincial levels say they have taken appropriate measures and provided financial assistance to farmers to improve living conditions to minimize the spread of COVID-19 infection amongst these workers, Justice for Migrant Workers posted a video recently, available here, which shows these workers are still being warehoused in large, contained spaces. 

It is reported that Ontario farms rely on some 20,000 migrant workers each year. Canada contracts about 60,000 migrant farm workers per year in total. They come from the Caribbean,  Mexico and elsewhere. They prepare vineyards, orchards and fields. They plant and harvest. They also work in more industrial settings, such as greenhouses, hydroponic farms, and mushroom factories.

These migrant workers are highly skilled, very productive and dedicated workers. Canadian agriculture depends on them. The first thing that is needed to protect these workers is to recognize that they are vital to the Canadian economy, an important part of the Canadian working class, and to provide these workers with permanent resident and citizenship status.

(With files from Chatham Daily News, Chatham Voice, CTV)

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Nova Scotia Federation of Labour Demands Health Coverage Be Extended to Uninsured Residents

On May 11, the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour sent a letter to the provincial government urging that during the COVID-19 pandemic they extend health care coverage to those Nova Scotia residents who are currently uninsured and do not meet the eligibility criteria for provincial health care coverage.

The letter, signed by the Federation's President Danny Cavanagh, states in part:

"We know that migrant workers, international students, and undocumented migrant workers cannot travel home and/or some will be coming into the province to work. We need to ensure they have medical coverage as the COVID-19 health crisis continues.

"We know that the health of our province depends on the health of all Nova Scotians. When the most vulnerable people are denied health care and believe they are unable to access free testing and treatment for COVID-19, it puts our entire community at risk of a more rapid and greater spread of the virus. Migrant workers, international students, and undocumented migrants who have lost their status are all at risk of contracting the virus and spreading it without access to easily acceptable public healthcare."

The letter then highlights that some of these workers and international students have private emergency service insurance, but it may not cover COVID-19 assessments, testing or treatment. Others will face the impossible barrier of paying upfront for services and waiting for insurance companies to reimburse them in those cases where the insurance covers COVID-19 situations. And still others have no health insurance at all.

This means, states the letter, that, along with the fear of possible detention or deportation that hangs over their head, this is another pressure to keep these members of the community from seeking health care services, which increases the risk of the spread of the virus in the community.

Free and easily accessible health care coverage for the most vulnerable people is therefore a need to protect their health, help flatten the curve of COVID-19 and protect the health and safety of all, the letter concludes.

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The Need to Make Transit Workers Safe

Workers Call for Mandatory Face Masks
on Public Transit

On May 8 the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 113, representing the men and women who operate and maintain North America's third largest public transit system, as well as the transit operators of Transdev Canada in the York Region just north of the City of Toronto, issued a call for mandatory use of face masks on public transit to protect against the transmission of COVID 19. The statement reads:

"The union representing 12,000 Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) workers today is calling on the City of Toronto to make it mandatory for TTC riders to wear face masks or face coverings on local public transit.

"On the eve of the TTC's 15 per cent cut in transit service, which takes effect on Sunday, May 10, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 is concerned the service cuts will lead to crowding on several TTC routes, increasing the risk of spreading the coronavirus on the TTC.

"'The math is straightforward -- as more businesses re-open, more people will be taking public transit with less TTC vehicles on the road,' said Carlos Santos, ATU Local 113 President. 'The City of Toronto must protect workers and the public by making face coverings mandatory on the TTC.'

"Several North American municipalities, including New York City and Montreal, have or are considering making face masks mandatory on public transit.

"ATU Local 113's call for mandatory face coverings on local public transit comes at a time when the Ontario government and City of Toronto are moving towards re-opening the economy, which will increase TTC ridership.

"'As Ontario starts to re-open the economy, there is no time to waver in protecting the public and workers,' said Carlos Santos. 'We must be ready for the increase in ridership as more people will depend on the TTC to get to work safe.'

"Despite calls from numerous organizations, including ATU Local 113, the federal and provincial governments have yet to provide emergency financial support for the TTC and other public transit services. Without urgent action from senior levels of government, the TTC is set to lay off 1,200 workers and cut transit service by 15 per cent. These service cuts will have a significant impact on many low-income essential workers who depend on the TTC to get to hospitals, long-term care homes, grocery stores, pharmacies and other critical services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"'Public transit workers have been on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic since the very beginning,' said Carlos Santos. 'Instead of supporting TTC workers who have put themselves and their loved ones at risk, government inaction will lead to pink slips for many public transit workers and hurt some of our city's most vulnerable people who depend on the TTC. How is this fair?'"

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United States

Sanitation Workers in New Orleans on Strike to Demand Better Conditions and Pay

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, across the world workers on the frontlines of the battle against the spread of the disease have been organizing to demand that governments and employers provide them greater protection. In New Orleans, a group of sub-contracted sanitation workers who work as "hoppers" on garbage trucks have been on strike since Tuesday, May 5, to demand hazard pay and personal protective equipment (PPE).

The workers in New Orleans said they are not being provided PPE by their employers and are being exposed to coronavirus and other health hazards on the job. Due to these risks, they are demanding $135 standard day rate plus $150 hazard pay per day until the end of the pandemic. They also demand the provision of adequate protective equipment every day and the seven paid sick days hoppers are entitled to under the city's Living Wage Ordinance

The workers are not directly employed by the city, and their conditions are related to their precarious position as sub-contractors. The city of New Orleans has a $10 million contract with Metro Services Group, a private corporation, to garbage and recycling collection services for the city. The group of sanitation workers on strike are not even hired directly by the Metro Services Group but through People Ready, an app-based temporary hiring agency.

The response of New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell to the sanitation workers' strike was essentially to deflect the responsibility towards the workers' safety onto Metro Services Group. She released a statement saying that "Metro is responsible for providing workers with the necessary items for their safety. This would include masks, gloves, etc."

Sanitation worker Greg Woods spoke to New Orleans local news and explained that many of the issues they are raising "have been going on before the coronavirus even came. We get paid late, everything is bad." He also pointed to the fact that they work grueling hours from 4:20 am until 4:00 pm and their pay for this labour is insufficient.

In 2015, the city of New Orleans passed a resolution to guarantee that city-contracted workers receive a living wage. According to a 2017 study by Louisiana Association of United Ways in the Orleans Parish which encompasses the New Orleans metro area, a living wage to support a family of four is $26 per hour, much less than what the hoppers are paid who do work for the city.

The workers are also fighting for the right to form a labour union -- the City Waste Union -- in order to advocate for better working conditions. They drafted a petition to raise their demands with mayor Cantrell and to call on her to intervene on their behalf with Metro Services Group. The petition states, "Some of our most essential workers are not being treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. During the COVID-19 crisis, New Orleans garbage hoppers are working long, grueling shifts in bad conditions, without adequate proper protective equipment (PPE), for low pay. Our sanitation workers put their lives on the line every day to keep this city safe and clean, and now we must support them as they organize for their rights."

New Orleans and the state of Louisiana were hotspots early on in the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. The State of Louisiana has recorded 30,652 confirmed cases and 2,135 deaths, and 1,432 people have been hospitalized.

(May 8, 2020. Photo: Peoples Dispatch)

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