February 10, 2021 - No. 4

Parliament Opens

Whose Agenda and Who Decides?

Fight for People's Empowerment

Unconscionable Threats Against Recipients of Emergency Benefits
• Government Now Drops Demands for Repayment

Status For All

• Let No One Be Left Behind! - Diane Johnston
Victory in Campaign to Extend Work Permits and Stop Deportations of
Foreign Students

Parliament Opens

Whose Agenda and Who Decides?

Parliament opened on January 25 with debate on Bill C-14, the Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2020, being one of the issues that was dealt with. Bill C-14 was last discussed on February 2 and Parliament is now in recess until February 16. The passage of Bill C-14 would allow the Trudeau government to implement the measures that it is proposing, in the name of dealing with the pandemic and sustaining the economy, to increase the scope and depth of its pay-the-rich schemes.

According to the cartel parties one of the main problems facing Canadian society is of keeping the economy functioning during the pandemic and this means strengthening the pay-the-rich status quo including with the state borrowing money from private sources. It calls these private funds "public funds," which it then doles out primarily to narrow private interests. That those monies, provided ostensibly to sustain people's livelihood during the pandemic, do not serve that aim, is brutally highlighted by the demand that vulnerable workers and students pay back thousands of dollars that they received through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit and other payments because, it is claimed, that they did not qualify according to rules they were never told existed. On February 9, in response to broad opposition to this unconscionable attack on some of the most vulnerable people struggling to make ends meet, the Canada Revenue Agency announced the reversal of that decision. The problem remains, however, that a large number of people are not eligible for the new Canada Recovery Benefit and are left without any income at all.

Catering to the demands of private businesses, increasing police powers and funding the war economy to serve U.S. imperialism's striving for world hegemony are sucking public funds away from social programs and human-centred investment. Instead of mobilizing the entire society to solve the problems by having everyone participate in a nation-building project based on an economy and social programs that have the satisfaction of the needs of the people as their basis, the elite blame the people and "foreign actors" for all the problems, and then demand that everyone rally around the government and military and police agencies to defend our "democracy." The unanimous support in Parliament for the NDP demand that Proud Boys be added to the list of terrorist organizations and the subsequent designation by the Canadian government of Proud Boys and other organizations as terrorist entities is dangerous for the people's movement in defence of rights. It enshrines the fraud that police powers and their secret operation defend rights and security while it is those same police powers that have been linked with covert as well as overt violence against Indigenous Land Defenders, workers, political and social activists defending rights. The other fraud is that security is a balance between permitting covert police operations and giving them the green light to act with impunity and freedom of speech, association and expression. This is not the case. 

Above all, the cartel parties in government are united in their opposition to what is needed -- political renewal and a new direction for the economy based on a program to stop paying the rich and increase investments in social programs.

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Fight for People's Empowerment

The experience of the past year has revealed for all to see that more than 30 years of neo-liberal anti-social wrecking of social programs such as health care through cuts, restructuring and privatization created the conditions for the current crisis and made it impossible for the system to cope with an emergency like the pandemic.

The problems facing the working class and the Canadian people of guaranteeing rights, to health care, education, housing and care for the most vulnerable, to peace and security will not be solved by the measures being discussed in Parliament. What the rich and the cartel parties in the federal and provincial legislatures are offering is more of the same that has created the crisis of unemployment, unaffordable housing and deteriorating working conditions. For example, billions of dollars that are being pledged to "fix" long-term care, including emergency funds for personal protective equipment, are going to be handed over to the private operators whose profits ballooned even as thousands of seniors in their care and workers at the homes became infected with COVID-19. Only by putting an end to private profit in long-term care homes and creating a new public authority creating enterprises based on meeting the needs of seniors and providing the working conditions needed by the caregivers through increased investments can seniors have a healthy, safe and dignified life. This is the demand that has been raised by workers across the country.

With the end of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, the continued closure of many businesses and new outbreaks in meat processing plants and other workplaces, the situation is becoming even worse for those who are working and the unemployed who are struggling to make ends meet.

Frontline workers in health care, education, mass transit, and industry have put forward their proposals and demands that would protect them and society and get the situation under control but governments have instead resorted to issuing decrees and to police powers, as if the working class and people are the problem not the solution.

The key problem and the obstacle to moving forward is political, a system of governance that disempowers the people. The current outmoded system blocks any movement towards renewal and the cartel parties do everything in their power to make sure that the people have no say in making the decisions that affect their lives, from the "issues" on which an election is fought, to the selection of candidates, to legislation that is passed, to holding elected representatives to account.

Workers' Forum joins workers in all sectors across the country who are discussing matters that concern the working class and people and working out solutions to problems facing the workers and society, as a contribution to setting an agenda based on a nation-building project. Let us all speak in our own names and participate in discussing political affairs as worker politicians, to end our marginalization by insisting on discussing the issues of concern to the working class and people and not let the agenda be set by the rich and the cartel parties whose aim is to hold onto power, an aim which is an obstacle to mobilizing the full human force of the people for society's advance.

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Unconscionable Threats Against Recipients of Emergency Benefits

Government Now Drops Demands for Repayment

Applications for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) for those self-employed in 2019 opened on April 6, 2020. Government agents and the official website said qualified applicants needed to prove a gross income of $5,000 from self-employment for the 2019 taxation year and that COVID-19 was negatively affecting their income in 2020. The government subsequently announced at the end of the year that this information was incorrect and was meant to be "net" income of $5,000 not "gross" income.

This enraged many who had received the subsidy and were in no position to pay it back. Copies of the government website from April 6 to April 21, 2020 showed that "gross income" was the qualification for the CERB. Even after April 21, some Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) agents continued to give out misleading information that the requirement was based on gross income.

By April 21, thousands of self-employed people had already made their applications and later began receiving the CERB based on a gross income of $5,000 or more for 2019. The government later in 2020 sent many of them a letter that they "may" have to pay the benefit back. Needless to say, most of those under the gun to repay the benefit are living near or under the poverty line and the letter was distressing to say the least.

In response to the government's unconscionable demand for repayment, a semi-retired Mississauga teacher initiated a class-action lawsuit against the federal government on behalf of the self-employed affected by the confusion over eligibility for the CERB. The lawsuit said the CRA must cease any demand to repay the benefit, as the fault and responsibility for the confusion rested squarely with the government and repayment of the benefit would cause hardship for many recipients. Now, on February 9, the CRA issued a press release saying it is rescinding the demand for repayment by self-employed individuals who applied for the CERB and would have qualified based on their gross income. They "will not be required to repay the benefit, provided they also met all other eligibility requirements. The same approach will apply whether the individual applied through the Canada Revenue Agency or Service Canada," the press release says.

"This means that, self-employed individuals whose net self-employment income was less than $5,000 and who applied for the CERB will not be required to repay the CERB, as long as their gross self-employment income was at least $5,000 and they met all other eligibility criteria," the press release says. It adds: "Some self-employed individuals whose net self-employment income was less than $5,000 may have already voluntarily repaid the CERB. The CRA and Service Canada will return any repaid amounts to these individuals. Additional details will be available in the coming weeks."

Janet Ryan, the semi-retired teacher who initiated the lawsuit against the government's demand for repayment, made a little over $5,000 gross from part-time tutoring in 2019 plus the regular payments from her Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security. Automatic tax deductions reduced her net income from working to below $5,000. Because she earned so little she and many others received a notification from the government to repay the CERB.

Ryan said her tutoring income in 2020 was being negatively affected by COVID-19 and, after checking the eligibility requirements on the government's website in April she applied for and received the CERB. Ryan and 441,000 other Canadians received the same government letter threatening they may have to repay the benefit, causing alarm and distress to many and their families.

Ryan says the threatening letter was the first she and many others had heard that their eligibility for CERB was based on net and not gross income. They only realized they were not eligible for the CERB after receiving the letter.

Many like Janet Ryan had been told by CRA agents before they applied for the benefit that they qualified. The CRA actually admitted some agents were giving out wrong information and in addition the CRA website contained wrong information through most of April. Nonetheless, the demand for repayment stood.

The government has now rescinded the order. Demands for repayment were unconscionable.

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Status For All
Let No One Be Left Behind!

On Saturday, January 30, Solidarity Across Borders organized a dance-protest in Montreal to demand status for all without exception. The event was held outside federal government offices at Complexe Guy-Favreau on a cold winter day.

Speakers pointed out that the pandemic's first and second wave have created enormous hardship for migrants without status. Now, the 8:00 pm to 5:00 am curfew imposed in Quebec by the Legault government since January 9, has placed them in a "disastrous situation." Some have lost their jobs, others have left their jobs because of the risk of being stopped by the police, which could result in their deportation. Others arrive at work hours before their shift commences or remain there much later to avoid being intercepted by the police.

Participants learned that during police checks, an employer's authorization letter does not suffice for persons presumed to have committed an infraction. They are required to identify themselves and those without valid documentation are in danger of being deported. In 2019 alone, Montreal police officers contacted the Canada Border Services Agency 3,500 times, even though their mandate does not include immigration matters. The loophole here is that the police can detain people if an arrest warrant has been issued against them.

Even though these workers are considered frontline essential workers, they are denied the right to health care or daycare for their children, and to the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit. As well, in refusing to allow them to be part of the recent temporary regularization program, both the Trudeau Liberals and the Legault government are saying that the work they do is not as valuable as those who provide direct care to patients with COVID-19.

"We have people in this country who are treated like slaves. There are people here during the pandemic with no health coverage! They can't even get a COVID test," said one participant. "What happens if they come down with the virus and spread it to others? As these workers are repeatedly told that they are essential, it is high time they are provided the conditions essential for their survival."

Demonstrators demanded that the federal government expand the criteria for income replacement benefits so that they are also covered, otherwise they are without any means of subsistence if they contract COVID-19.

"We want our status, we want our residency! Now is the time to mobilize as it is only through struggle that we will free ourselves. And so the fight goes on."

All out to demand that this injustice, discrimination, and exploitation of the most vulnerable be brought to an end, once and for all!

Only through our unity in action will we be able to guarantee permanent residency status for all, without exception. Only through ensuring the security of migrant workers will we be able to ensure the security of all.

(Photos: Solidarity Across Borders)

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Victory in Campaign to Extend Work Permits and Stop Deportations of Foreign Students

November 24, 2020. Toronto rally to stop deportations of foreign students.

Migrant Students United is celebrating a victory in their months-long campaign to stop the deportation of tens of thousands of foreign students stranded in Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic. They have been fighting for the extension of Post-Graduate Work Permits (PGWP) which expired at the end of 2020. On January 8, Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, announced that international students who were unable to find qualified work due to the COVID-19 pandemic will be eligible for an 18-month extension of their permits.

This will allow foreign students who studied and graduated here to continue looking for employment in Canada. For some this means extending their opportunity to satisfy the requirements for applying for permanent resident (PR) status. For others, it is an opportunity to earn income, offset their student loan debts, gain work experience etc. before returning home.

About 61 per cent of all foreign students graduating from post-secondary institutions in Canada planned to find employment here before returning home, according to a recent study of the Canadian Bureau of International Education. Only about half (51 per cent) intend to apply for permanent resident status on the strength of their studies and employment, but only 22 per cent actually succeed in gaining PR status through one of these programs.

Canada fell far short on its immigration targets for 2020 due to the pandemic and, to make up the numbers, the federal government is looking to increase the number of international students receiving PR.

Inability to secure work due to the COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating for migrant students. Tens of thousands of migrant students who graduate here -- 58,000 in 2019 -- were facing deportation because their post-graduate work permits had expired at the end of 2020.

This is indeed a sweet victory. Organizations like Migrant Students United fought hard to achieve it. They organized rallies, pickets, and petitions. They lobbied and brought their case to the attention of the Canadian public, got trade unions and other organizations on board.

The fight to affirm the rights of international students does not end here. There are nearly 700,000 international students in Canada on post-graduate work permits and study permits. They have already paid exorbitant tuition fees -- up to six times those paid by their Canadian peers. Upon graduation, international students typically receive lower salaries -- seven per cent lower on average, according to Statistics Canada. Additionally, graduate students work as teaching and research assistants and do vital work in other fields but these labours do not qualify them to satisfy PR requirements. The list of the ways in which international students are shamefully fleeced, exploited, misused and denied their rights by the Canadian government goes on and on. Furthermore, during this COVID-19 pandemic, international student graduates whose social insurance applications were in process, numbering in the thousands, did not receive any financial support from the federal government, not even the paltry amounts that Canadian post-secondary students got. Many others were unable to get full time work or sufficient hours to qualify for Employment Insurance.

Sarom Rho, National Coordinator of Migrant Students United, said their organization is committed to continue the struggle for justice and the rights of all. In addition to this victory in securing work permit extensions Migrant Students United is committed to bring about changes that will ensure real access to PR (count work that is part-time in school and any other occupation towards PR) and for full and permanent residency for all migrants; to remove time limits and industry restrictions on work; to unite families and ensure work permits for family members; to lower tuition and ensure full access to services (health care, housing, jobs, scholarships, pandemic emergency benefits etc.) for all international students.

Workers' Forum congratulates Migrant Students United on this victory and calls on everyone to join in supporting its political organizing for the rights of all.

(Photo: Workers' Forum)

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