June 9, 2020 - No. 39

Working People Affirm Their Rights and the Rights of All From Coast to Coast

Spirited Programs Mark Ontario Injured Workers' Day 2020
Fighting for Justice for All Injured Workers - Janice Murray
Women of Inspiration Hold 15th Annual Vigil

"Reopening" of the Economy and Workers' Right to Safety at Work
Serious Concerns in Ontario - Steve Rutchinski

Unacceptable Attacks on Workers' Rights
Alberta Government Passes Bill 1, the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act
- Peggy Morton
Letter to the Editor from Abitibi Metalworker
Militant Protests in Quebec Against Abusive Ministerial Orders - Pierre Chénier

Concrete Measures Required to Defend the Rights of the Most Vulnerable
The Need for Adequate Funding for Services for Vulnerable Women - Interview, Jennie-Laure Sully, Convergence of Struggles Against Sexual Exploitation
Social Assistance Recipients' Right to a Decent Income - Serge Lachapelle

Spirited Programs Mark Ontario Injured Workers' Day 2020

Fighting for Justice for All Injured Workers

The Ontario Network of Injured Workers' Groups organized two well-attended online events on Ontario Injured Workers' Day to celebrate their work and collective strength in fighting for justice for injured workers. This year marks 37 years since the first injured workers' day, June 1, 1983, when 3,000 injured workers' and their allies gathered at Queen's Park to make their demands known to a public inquiry into the compensation system.

The Injured Workers' Day online rally, June 1, was attended by more than 200 registered participants, while others joined on Facebook and YouTube. The current COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore the importance to the entire society of the fight for safe working conditions for all workers, and for full and timely compensation for all who are injured or become ill due to their work.

Following an introduction by Maryam Nazemi, who brought greetings from the Women of Inspiration vigil, the President of the Ontario Network of Injured Workers' Groups Janet Paterson spoke. Under the conditions of the current pandemic she pointed out, it is all the more important that the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) take up its responsibility to injured workers who agreed to give up the right to sue the employers for workplace injuries and illness in return for just compensation for as long as the injury or illness lasts. Instead, employer premiums have been reduced while fewer and fewer injured workers receive the compensation they are due. In the case of COVID-19, instead of presuming that essential workers have contracted the illness at work the WSIB is adjudicating each case separately which currently leaves more than 4,000 Ontario workers who have filed claims in limbo as they wait for WSIB decisions. This situation must end, Janet stated.

A private member's Bill 191 to address this issue has passed first reading in the Ontario Legislature. If passed, should a frontline worker contract COVID-19, it will be presumed to be an occupational disease occurring due to the nature of the their work, unless the contrary is shown.

Patty Coates, President of the Ontario Federation of Labour, highlighted the situation of frontline workers during the pandemic. While governments have taken to speaking of frontline workers as heroes, many of them are not receiving the protection they require from their employers she said. It is the responsibility of the Minister of Labour, Coates pointed out, to protect all workers and this is not taking place, leaving workers to fend for themselves.

During the rally a number of injured workers spoke out on their experiences. Many more participated in putting together a video for the occasion of Injured Workers' Day 2020 (see below). One activist with Injured Workers Action for Justice pointed out that long before COVID-19 essential workers were working long hours in unsafe conditions and facing long waits to get claims for compensation processed, if they were not outrightly denied, leaving injured workers with no means of support. Gabriel, a former migrant farm worker and now an organizer, spoke to their situation, which has become all the more dangerous during this pandemic. Migrant farmworkers do not have access to EI, or to comprehensive health care, and if they are injured or become ill they are repatriated to their home countries, he pointed out.

The rally also received a video message of greetings from Paul Healey, Secretary of the Australian Health and Community Services Union in Victoria, which this year celebrated its first June 1 Injured Workers' Day.

Janice Martell, from the McIntyre Powder Project, spoke to the need to change this workers' compensation system which is designed to fail injured workers, a system that is designed to wear them down until they give up or die (video presentation below). For frontline workers who contract the disease at work COVID-19 is an occupational disease, she pointed out, but to call frontline workers "heroes" masks the failure of the government and employers to adequately protect the workers from toxic exposure.

The final speaker was Fred Hahn, President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario. His union represents many frontline workers, in particular in health and seniors care, and has been active in fighting for their safety and that of those they care for during the pandemic. He pointed out that while the pandemic did not cause the problems in the public services, it has exposed them and created public opinion to address workplace health and safety. We need to be able to fully enact our right to refuse unsafe work, he stated.



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Women of Inspiration Hold 15th Annual Vigil

The Women of Inspiration vigil, held yearly at Queen's Park on the eve of Injured Workers' Day, also moved online. This year marked the 15th anniversary of the event and it was opened by one of the vigil's founders, Maryam Nazemi, who honoured all those, including the many frontline workers, who have lost their lives during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has exposed many social problems that activists have spoken out about for decades, she said. Our message to government, she stated, is that a strong economy can only be built by making the health and safety of everyone the priority. This means No! to privatization and the cuts to the safeguards to the health and safety of workers -- essential workers must not be forced to work in unsafe and undignified conditions.

The program included a spirited song by Heather Cherron Von-Atzigen calling on injured workers to speak out because their voices matter and poems and interventions by injured workers and their allies. Among these, Sharnette, from Injured Workers Action for Justice, spoke to the increased hardships faced by injured workers during the pandemic. No additional assistance has been provided by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) for injured workers to cover extra financial burdens they are facing to stay safe during this pandemic such as transportation to medical appointments and the cost of grocery delivery. Sharon, also an injured worker spoke on the need to end the practice of cutting injured workers' benefits based on deeming them to be working at jobs they do not have.

Leila Paugh a paramedic and a health and safety representative for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 911, spoke to the challenges they faced on the ground as frontline workers to protect the safety of their members and the public during the pandemic. What came out in her presentation was that it is the workers, organized in their collective, that lead in ensuring both their own health and safety and that of everyone.

Sultana Jahangir, from the South Asian Women's Rights Organization, spoke to the effects of the pandemic in their Scarborough community. Many have lost their jobs, some 70 per cent of women, and many of those who were employed as temporary and on-call workers do not qualify for government relief programs. Many who are working do so in unsafe workplaces which did not comply with health and safety standards before the pandemic let alone now. They work as frontline workers in retail, food processing, factory and warehouse jobs and bring COVID-19 infections into the community from the workplaces. The safety of the community depends on ensuring workplace safety, she pointed out.

Cynthia Ireland from CUPE Local 1750, representing WSIB employees, spoke about the Cover Me campaign to expand workers' compensation to cover all workers and workplaces. Presently in Ontario only 76 per cent of workers are covered, the lowest of all the provinces. The campaign's petition is available here

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"Reopening" of the Economy and Workers' Right to Safety at Work

Serious Concerns in Ontario

Across Canada, after more than two months of lockdown, stay-at-home, closure of all non-essential business and other measures intended to stem the transmission of COVID-19 infection, we are entering round two -- reopening while still under conditions of a pandemic.

There are appropriate warnings to practice social distancing, rigorous hand washing and so forth, which obviously need to be stated and continuously reinforced, because the politicians making these pronouncements are seen to flagrantly disregard the rules which they themselves set, such as restricting even family members from visiting one's home and strictly enforcing no more than five people beyond a family household grouping getting together.

We are continually assured by the various levels of government that "reopening" is being guided by the best advice of science and public health as the priority. But it is simply not so. Nor are the measures called for by frontline workers and their organizations as to what is required now, and going forward taken seriously. They are marginalized, sidelined, talked over and dismissed.

Ontario for example officially launched "reopening" measures on May 19. The Ontario government says its "Framework for Reopening our Province" lays out its approach to restarting the economy, which it says incorporates public health recommendations.

Fact is the decision to begin to "reopen" Ontario was not in compliance with the minimum criteria the Premier had set only a matter of weeks prior, i.e. a consistent trend of "flattening the curve" of new COVID-19 infections. It was not so when the Premier made his "reopening" announcement and a full ten days later, Ontario was still reporting 300-400 new cases a day! Ontario is still far from testing up to its capacity for COVID-19 infection and by decision does not even test asymptomatic people. One infectious disease specialist, Zain Chagla, at St. Joseph's Healthcare in Hamilton and an associate professor at McMaster University said recently that for Ontario to be on par with South Korea, would require additional investment "in the orders of tens of millions of dollars to get that testing capacity up and running."

The same is true on the national level. The president of the Canadian Medical Association, Dr. Sandy Buchman, recently said the country isn't prepared for a possible second wave of COVID-19. He said the public health system is "breaking down" because of personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages and physician fatigue -- and the consequences could be catastrophic if the COVID-19 caseload surges in the fall. Buchman said there's an "urgent need" to strengthen the public health system's capacity to conduct more testing and contact tracing.

Nurses' organizations had been warning provincial authorities since January that the public health system was severely unprepared for a surge in demand that a COVID-19 pandemic would create. They pointed to staffing shortages in long-term care facilities and the need for personal protective equipment in hospitals and long-term care homes. These frontline workers still don't have the protective equipment they need.

Round Two is no different. At the "reopening" press conference, Ontario's Minister of Transport Caroline Mulroney talked claptrap about public transit being "critical to supporting the economy ... as the province begins to reopen" and how "the health and well-being of all transit workers and passengers is a top priority." But these are empty phrases without concrete measures to protect the public health and safety when using transit.

Carlos Santos, President of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 113 representing transit workers in Toronto and York Region, for example, expressed regret that the provincial government did not address the need for social investments to keep public transit safe during round two. He asked "how will municipalities pay for additional measures to protect public transit workers and riders? Without emergency funding from the province and federal government, it will be next to impossible to maintain proper service levels on the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) to handle increased ridership and ensure physical distancing." In Toronto some 1,200 transit workers have been laid off and service reduced during the lockdown. "Toronto needs the province and the federal government to step up and provide the TTC with emergency funding," Santos said.

So like it or not Round Two of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic is underway. Science is not the guide to action for the decision makers. Working people are marginalized from being the decision makers. Creating conditions for the activation of the human factor social consciousness, putting working people front and centre in working out how the problems such as coming out of lockdown pose themselves, working out and implementing measures to enable society to move forward, protecting the health and well-being of the people, their economy, their society, is the order of the day to enable us to move beyond the "old normal" which has been revealed by the pandemic as a complete disaster.

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Unacceptable Attacks on Workers' Rights

Alberta Government Passes Bill 1, the
Critical Infrastructure Defence Act

The first order of business for the Kenney government when the Alberta legislation resumed on May 27 was Bill 1, the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act. The legislation was passed the following day.

The Act gives the government and police arbitrary powers to attack workers, women, youth, seniors, Indigenous peoples and everyone who is affirming their rights and the laying their claims. Bill 1 makes it an offence to "without lawful right, justification or excuse, wilfully obstruct, interrupt or interfere with the construction, maintenance, use or operation of any essential infrastructure in a manner that renders the essential infrastructure dangerous, useless, inoperative or ineffective."

It also creates an offence to aid, counsel, or direct another person to commit an offence under the Act, irrespective of whether the other person actually commits the offence. It is also an offence to enter essential infrastructure having obtained permission by false pretenses. All of this creates an offence so broad that it could mean almost anything, which is clearly the intention.

In addition to a long list of "essential infrastructure" which includes pipelines, oil and gas production and refinery sites, mines, utilities, highways, railways, telecommunications, agricultural sites, and the land on which infrastructure is located, the Bill also defines "essential infrastructure" as "a building, structure, device or other thing prescribed by the regulations." Regulations are enacted under the prerogative or police powers of the executive and can be changed at any time by executive decision. In short -- "essential infrastructure" is anything the government declares it to be, including public space. Under this law police can make arrests without obtaining a warrant or injunction.

Bill 1 provides penalties of up to $10,000 for a first offence, up to $25,000 for subsequent offences, plus possible prison time of up to six months, and up to $200,000 for "corporations that help or direct trespassers." Each day that a "contravention" exists constitutes a new offence.

The bill has evoked a storm of criticism from the Indigenous peoples, workers and their organizations, human rights organizations, legal experts and many others, and the government's claim that it is "upholding law and order" has been met with the contempt it deserves.

Bill 1 was first introduced on February 25 immediately following the Speech from the Throne, with the government attacking all those standing with the Wet'suwet'en people, and blaming them for all the problems facing the economy in Alberta. Premier Jason Kenney and others referred to the land defenders as "thugs" and "ecoterrorists" at one time and "spoiled kids" and "professional protesters" at another.

Introducing the bill in February, Alberta Minister of Justice Doug Schweitzer said, "Over the last number of weeks, we've seen growing lawlessness across the country, pushing our railway lines to grind to a halt," This is simply unacceptable. This is a mockery of our democratically founded country. So we're now taking decisive action to respond to this."

No such declarations have been made about the negligence of CN and CP and the growing number of rail accidents in Canada, with 1,170 rail accidents in 2018 alone, leading not just to temporary disruption of the rail system but to the deaths of railway workers. Law and order does not apply to the energy oligarchs when it comes to mitigating the damage they cause to the environment. The pandemic even became a pretext to suspend the entire regulatory system governing the operation of oil and gas companies. There is no rule of law when governments act as though Indigenous law has been extinguished, violate treaties in which Indigenous peoples agreed to share the land on a nation-to-nation basis, and refuse to uphold Canada's obligations under international law.

Alberta public sector workers rally, November 20, 2019, against government's neo-liberal wrecking of public services.

Bill 1 is also directed against workers who defend their rights through strike action, and against the resistance to the anti-social offensive and the united stand and No! of the public sector workers who the government calls heroes today and plans to throw out onto the street later. It is intended to target workers defending their picket lines, which are already confined by injunctions and other means intended to make them ineffective. Bill 1 adds to the arsenal used to impose huge fines on unions which uphold the right of workers to decide the wages and working conditions acceptable to them.

Resources at the disposal of the state come from the wealth created by the working people. But instead of being used to benefit the people, they are used to impose the rule of the rich. The Beaver Lake Cree Nation (BLCN) are in court once again, as the federal and Alberta governments appeal the lower court decision to award advance costs to the BLCN to advance their legal case that regulatory bodies must consider cumulative effects of development on their traditional territories. For 12 years, since the BLCN launched the legal challenge, governments have tried to block them and drain their financial resources every step of the way. Fines of hundreds of thousands of dollars are levied against unions who defend the right of their members to decide what wages and working conditions are acceptable to them using unjust laws which criminalize their collective actions. Bill 1 shows just what Kenney means when he says he will do "whatever is necessary" to defend the interests of the energy oligarchs, and that the government has lost all claims to legitimacy. What remains of the public authority is the use of police powers to enforce the rule of the rich, no matter what.

This may be called "rule of law" but it does not make it so. There is already a line-up to challenge Bill 1 as illegal and a violation of the Charter or civil right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. It will also certainly be challenged by the people in action to defend their human rights as well as their civil rights. When laws do not recognize the rights which belong to people by virtue of their being, including the sovereign rights of Indigenous peoples and the rights of workers as the producers of all social value, a serious problem arises. This refusal creates a conflict between the authority and the modern conditions. That is a big problem facing the people and society, which needs to be addressed and resolved. It is not a problem which can be sorted out by using force and violence in the name of "law and order."

Whether or not Bill 1 is found to be unconstitutional, which is quite possible, it is certainly in contempt of a modern understanding of the purpose of law to serve the cause of justice. When the law is not seen to be just, and when it is imposed through arbitrary powers in an attempt to threaten, intimidate, bully, and criminalize those who are defending their rights and the rights of all, it cannot be called rule of law.

The need for democratic renewal to provide the working people with a say in governance and for nation-to-nation relations between Canada and the Indigenous peoples has never been more urgent. Bill 1 must be repealed!

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

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Unacceptable Attacks on Workers' Rights

I think the government and employers are using the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity to try to weaken the labour movement. This can be seen with the nurses and all health care workers. It's distressing how the government is giving itself the right to cancel their collective agreements and unilaterally change their working conditions. I have a lot of sympathy for them. The situation the nurses are facing is very difficult. In spite of the fact that they are working very hard, protecting us and doing a remarkable job, the government refuses to take their situation seriously. Mandatory overtime in 2020 is unthinkable. It's also unthinkable that those doing the work have no say with regard to working conditions they require and that they end up with a disciplinary warning when they expose dangerous situations. There are cases where advance planning took place and agreements were made with nurses upholding their rights and conditions while fighting the pandemic. So it is possible. The government calls them guardian angels, as if they were blessed and protected from disease and the tragedies that may occur, however this is not the case. They are real flesh and blood workers who must be respected.

When the government gives its daily press conferences on the pandemic, it says that things are going well, that the situation is under control, that everyone is being provided the necessary personal protective equipment, but the reality is quite different on the ground and this is not only the case in the area of health. The government is out of touch with what the actual working conditions are. Working conditions have been won by the sweat of the workers' brows, with some of them sacrificing their lives for the conditions we now have. It was our parents and grandparents before them who gave us these conditions. We have not forgotten that during the lockout of the ABI workers, rather than minding his own business, Premier Legault supported the attacks on their working conditions by publicly accusing them of being spoiled brats.

The situation doesn't only exist in the health sector. Presently, the government and construction employers are trying to postpone the vacations of construction workers. There has been an outcry on that from construction workers and as far as I am aware, the situation has not yet been resolved. All workers need to keep their vigilance up, otherwise even more unacceptable things are going to be done to us.

In closing, I want to say that your articles in defence of workers' rights are very useful because they provide credible information. We're not shy about sharing these articles with others, as they are based on what is happening on the ground and on what workers on the front lines are experiencing. It's on the front line that the truth is found.

(Translated from original French by Workers' Forum.)

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Militant Protests in Quebec Against
Abusive Ministerial Orders

FIQ organizes a camp in front of Montreal Geriatrics University Institute, June 2, 2020.

Health and social services workers continue to demonstrate against ministerial orders issued by the executive of the Quebec government that gives the minister and health administrations the power to cancel negotiated collective agreements and unilaterally modify working conditions in the sector. The outrage of calling health care workers "guardian angels" while denying their rights and viewing them as a kind of cannon fodder who must simply obey and perhaps even die due to orders over which they have no say, is a matter of great concern to all workers.

As summer approaches, the protests are very much focused on the issue of vacations, as workers in the sector face exhaustion, the possibility of second wave of COVID-19 in the coming months, and great pressure from health administrations to cancel or postpone vacations and leaves.

On June 2, the Interprofessional Health Care Federation of Quebec (FIQ) launched a two-day camp in front of the University Institute of Geriatrics of Montreal to protest against health care employers who are relying on the government's ministerial order to deny the vacation rights of health care professionals as provided for in their collective agreement. The theme of the action is "Forced camping: this is where we spend the summer."

FIQ members are asking employers to reach an agreement with their local union on vacation terms and conditions. In an interview on June 2, FIQ President Nancy Bédard said that a total of seven Integrated Health and Social Services Centres (CISSS) and Integrated University Health and Social Services Centres (CIUSSS) have still not reached an agreement with their respective FIQ union on vacation time.

"Health care professionals throughout Quebec must have rest. It is a priority in order to care for our patients and to continue to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. It is high time that these recalcitrant employers took action! When we take the time to sit down, we find solutions without resorting to ministerial orders. Health care professionals, who have been in combat for almost three months, must have this moment of respite because their physical and mental health is at stake. This rest will be beneficial for them as well as for all patients," said Bédard in the June 2 FIQ press release.

On May 28, the more than 6,200 workers of the Laurentides CISSS, who are organized in the Health and Social Services' Workers' Union in Laurentides-CSN, began daily demonstrations in front of the CISSS' various establishments to demand confirmation that their vacations be respected.

In its May 28 press release, the union indicates that CISSS management is using the ministerial orders, imposed by the Legault government on March 21, to restrict access to leaves and vacations. It warns the CISSS against this practice and asks the CEO to send a signal that vacations will be upheld.

"While staff were already exhausted before the pandemic arrived, every effort must be made to prevent workers from falling in battle. We call upon the people of the region to support the guardian angels and to show their support in the coming days by honking their horns. Your support can make a difference," writes union president Dominic Presseault.

Also, on May 28, the four unions of the Mont r gie-Ouest CISSS (CISSSMO) organized a demonstration to demand respite and standardized working conditions. In a press release the unions write that for CISSSMO workers, the COVID-19 crisis "dangerously undermines a system that is already seriously weakened by years of cuts and restructuring." The four unions are the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3247, the local executive of the Alliance of the Professional and Technical Health and Social Services Staff (APTS), the FIQ-Union of Health Care Professionals of Montérégie-Ouest, and the Workers' Union of CISSSMO-Estrie-CSN.

The event took the form of a convoy of cars that traveled along several major arteries in the area covered by the CISSS.

"Since March, the ministerial orders and managers have, among other things, disrupted schedules and assignments, lengthened working hours and travel to work, moved staff to completely disorganized private residences and long-term care facilities, canceled vacations and leaves, and so on," the press release states. "These difficulties were combined with major challenges such as the issue of child care and the implementation of health protection measures. In order to be able to cope with the next wave of contamination, workers are calling for a break."

The press release points out that the CISSSMO workers are demanding that managers work with them to assess real staffing needs, to find solutions and lighten the burden, and that they listen to them instead of being the instrument of ministerial dictate.

(Translated from original French by Workers' Forum.)

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 Concrete Measures Required to Defend the Rights of the Most Vulnerable

The Need for Adequate Funding for
Services for Vulnerable Women

Community organizations working with disadvantaged and abused women face many obstacles in having their needs met during this pandemic. They want to break with the position the government places them in of begging and want recurring funding, not only now but at all times.

For several weeks now the government has been regularly running television ads affirming that women must not accept violence and that help is available. When one looks at the difficulties support groups lacking in resources are experiencing, this amounts to nothing other than doubletalk. Workers' Forum interviewed Jennie-Laure Sully, working with the Convergence of Struggles Against Sexual Exploitation (CLES), to smash the silence on their working conditions so that the needs of the women it serves, are met.

Workers' Forum: Can you tell us about your organization and the challenges posed by the pandemic?

Jennie-Laure Sully: The work of the Convergence has three main components: services for women who have been involved in the sex trade and their families, awareness and training, and political action.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we wrote to the Ministry of Health and Social Services to have our organization recognized as an essential service. That recognition was important to us because the needs of women involved in prostitution and the necessity of responding to them have increased. In fact, sexually exploited women were already having difficulty finding safe housing, food assistance, mental and physical health care before the pandemic, and the situation has worsened.

In terms of the work to be done, a link is often made between women and government services such as social assistance. Women are helped in obtaining financial assistance or compensation to which they are entitled as victims of crime.

CLES is based in Montreal, and we have member organizations, the majority of which are the Centres for Assistance in Fighting Aggression of a Sexual Nature (CALACS), that exist Quebec-wide. We are therefore recognized as a national organization. These are groups that intervene in matters of violence against women: sexual assault, incest, sexual exploitation, domestic violence. This is part of the continuum of violence. For example, a young girl who experienced incest as a child is more likely to fall prey to sexual exploitation as a teenager.

In speaking with the CALACS in Quebec, we learned that groups should be receiving between $30,000 and $45,000 in emergency funding. There was concern on the government's part that these women would end up on the street and that, as a result, confinement would not be respected. So, for example, if there's no place in women's shelters, at the YWCA or in other shelters, then the money received can be used to pay for a hotel room for someone. We look at all the options to make sure they don't end up on the street.

Women without status will be particularly affected by all forms of exploitation, including sexual exploitation. One recent example we had to deal with at CLES was a woman without status who found herself in a trafficking situation. Such cases are usually not brought to light. We have people fleeing their countries of origin because of our international policies who end up here without status and at risk of being exploited. It must be acknowledged that amongst those who have made refugee claims, the needs are far greater in times of a pandemic.

Prior to the pandemic, support groups were organized and women came to our offices. We could accommodate 8-10 women at a time. And that was very important to break with their isolation. One of the main needs they express is the need to break with their isolation, to overcome stigmatization, to no longer feel alone in the world. At the moment, we are not in a position to receive them, and that's a major problem. We have organized virtual support groups through video Facebook Messenger, FaceTime, Zoom, Skype. We've tried everything to keep that eye contact, to let them know they're not alone, that other women are going through difficulties and that together we're going to get through this. But what we are told by the women with whom we are in contact, either by phone or through Skype, is that they are living in even more precarious situations.

WF: Can you tell us about funding and the difficulties you're currently facing?

JLS: Actually we, just like other community organizations, were already underfunded. There's something called the Community Organization Support Program (COSP), which already falls short of what we need to operate to be able to really help women get out of their situation. What they generally do is spread the grants out over all the community organizations without taking into account each organization's mission. Often, this puts us in a situation where we have to respond to a project proposal call to get the grant, and practically speaking, this puts us in competition with other organizations.

The demand of all community organizations is for recurring mission-based funding. Every year, we're placed under the pressure of asking that our COSP funding be increased, because when we prepare the budget we find that the amount received only pays our rent. You're always placed in a position of begging, of having to justify one's raison d'être.

WF: Through all your efforts, you've succeeded in getting certain funds from the government during the pandemic. Can you tell us about that?

JLS: As a means of exerting pressure on them, we began sending emails, making calls to insist in particular on the importance of a program to get people out of prostitution. We spoke with the Status of Women Quebec Secretariat, with Status of Women Canada, we contacted Centraide, our various levels of government, which resulted in an expression of willingness and then all of the sudden the money was there! At the beginning of April, money was released for emergency assistance for women. With that we buy grocery cards, pharmacy cards, prepaid Visa and Mastercard cards to give to women. This allows them to pay for groceries and all kinds of expenses.

Many women who are still in the sex trade have less money coming in or expose themselves to greater risk by keeping the same amount of money coming in; many who were in the process of getting out and had found jobs in small businesses, such as restaurants or shops, have lost their job; many do not qualify for social assistance and other measures of last resort. The government has said it is going to release thousands of dollars for women's shelters because of situations of increased domestic violence.

The money received really has to be put towards emergency assistance for women but it's not enough. We had to make an appeal for donations. But what we are saying is that -- and this is not just related to the period of the pandemic -- we want women to have alternatives, for the short, medium and long term. Therefore there must be programs for the women who want to get out of prostitution. That's the most important thing, and this must be at all times, not just because of the pandemic. We are calling for prostitution exit programs, housing assistance for women, help to go back to school, and support for physical and mental health. It's all that.

WF: What other problems do you face?

JLS: The situation is that there is not enough space and resources to combat this problem of violence. The demands are the same everywhere: access to health care, housing and so on. Another thing they do is neglect the whole mental health aspect. It's very problematic. We learned that there's a group of psychologists who have banded together to offer help during the pandemic and that the government has refused it. It's a fragmented view of health care and it's ineffective.

Money will be given to businesses. But on what basis? Is it acceptable that vast sums of taxpayers' money will be given to all businesses without exception? Do taxpayers agree that they should bail out the financial sector, the arms industry and other non-essential or downright harmful industries? For example, the Business Development Bank of Canada does not normally lend to the sex trade or the gambling and alcohol industry. But here, during the pandemic, the sex trade can receive interest-free loans. This includes escort agencies, sites where there's trafficking going on, all such businesses are considered eligible right now, while community organization grants to assist sexually exploited women get out the sex trade are being cut. Is that the kind of society we want? Prostitution is not a social safety net! As a society, we must stop endorsing the right of men to buy access to women's bodies and sexuality. We must resolutely affirm that everyone has the right not to be forced to prostitute themselves to live.

(Translated from original French by Workers' Forum.)

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Social Assistance Recipients' Right
to a Decent Income

People on social assistance are among the most vulnerable in society and in Quebec they have been fighting relentlessly for close to 50 years for the full recognition of their rights. More than 272,680 Quebec households receive social assistance and are forced to deal with the brutality of the anti-social offensive.

The situation has worsened as a result of the pandemic and social containment measures recommended by public authorities. Social isolation is just a pipe dream for those living on low incomes, who must make their way to the remaining food banks and to various grocery stores in search of lower prices so they can feed themselves. Increased trips are necessary when people do not have a way to store food. Already part of an at-risk population, people with low-incomes are forced into harm's way and a greater risk of catching and spreading COVID-19, as their circumstances require that they move around, often taking the bus. That is the main reality of those living on social assistance.

Eighty civil society groups have joined voices in the Common Front of Quebec Social Assistance Recipients (FCPASQ) to demand sufficient support to assist the unemployed in coping with the crisis they face, especially within this bleak and critical period of the pandemic. From May 4 to 8, the 47th Week of Dignity for Quebec Social Assistance Recipients, these demands were reiterated. Many activities were organized online, such as the launch of a video denouncing the situation, testimonial thumbnails, and discussion panels.

People on social assistance receive $690 per month, although the federal government has set the monthly amount needed to adequately protect oneself at $2,000. While the government has provided funds for food banks, this does nothing to address the extreme poverty in which those on social assistance are living. According to the Market Basket Measure, the amount required to cover the minimum basic needs of a single person living in Montreal in 2019 was set at $18,424 annually ($1,535 per month). The monthly $690 received by those on social assistance falls far below that.

According to figures provided by the City of Montreal in 2019, 29 per cent of residents live below the poverty line. That rate is higher than in other Canadian cities -- for example, Vancouver, 27 per cent; Toronto; 25 per cent; and Calgary; 14 per cent.

In Montreal, 16.2 per cent of the population over 12 years of age are experiencing food insecurity. Those 12 to 39 years of age are most affected, in particular those between the ages of 30 and 39. As a result, an ever-increasing number of people are turning to food banks.

The latest attack on social assistance recipients was launched by the Philippe Couillard Liberal government through the JobLink program, on April 1, 2018, which encourages new social assistance recipients to take measures to find a job. Those who agree to participate are rewarded with an increase in their benefits of $240 per month, while penalties of up to $224 are applied to those who refuse to commit. The controversial program was denounced from the outset by recipients, community groups and officials.

To date, the François Legault CAQ government has not announced any support for those on social assistance, which is unacceptable. With an end to confinement now on the horizon, far from being overwhelmed by this state of affairs, people on social assistance, collectively, continue to fight for the full recognition of their rights.

A Decent Income for All!

(Translated from original French by Workers' Forum.)

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