February 15, 2021 - No. 6

Decisive Role of Workers in Flattening
Curve of COVID-19 Contagion

Olymel Workers Affirm Their
Right to Decide

Canada Must Provide Status for All
Migrant Workers Alliance for Change Demands Action to Protect Migrant Workers
Trudeau Government's Gross Disregard for Human Life: End All Removals Now! - Diane Johnston
• Refugee Lawyers' Association Opposes Deportation of Refugees
During Pandemic

Decisive Role of Workers in Flattening Curve of COVID-19 Contagion

Olymel Workers Affirm Their Right to Decide

Despite growing numbers of workers who have contracted COVID-19 at the Olymel pork processing plant in Red Deer, Alberta the company has refused to comply with the demand of the workers for a two-week "circuit breaker" shutdown. There are 1,850 workers at the Olymel plant, where 10,000 pigs are slaughtered and processed daily.

There were 315 COVID-19 cases linked to the plant on February 14, with 194 active cases, more than double the number the previous week. A young worker, only 30 years of age, tragically died from COVID-19 on January 28. 

Local 401 United Food and Commercial Workers President Tom Hesse called for a temporary shutdown with full compensation for the workers on February 6 after consulting with the workers. Eighty-one per cent of the workers who responded to a survey said they did not feel safe at work, and 87 per cent supported a temporary shutdown. Local 401 also demanded an immediate joint meeting with union officials, an independent health expert or experts, and government officials from Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) and Alberta Health Services (AHS).

"We urge you to act on these three points with the greatest urgency. Every infection carries the risk of death or serious, long-lasting health consequences we are only beginning to understand. We cannot afford to wait," the letter to Olymel management from Local 401 President Thomas Hesse and Secretary-Treasurer Richelle Stewart stated.

The Olymel workers base their conclusion that they are not safe on the conditions they face every day. The fight waged by the workers has led to measures such as provision of proper personal protective equipment, plexiglass barriers, and increased cleaning, but these measures alone cannot stop a large outbreak with 1,850 workers packed together and working at breakneck speed.

More than three weeks after a "new cluster" of COVID-19 cases began, the Olymel spokesperson says they are still investigating how the "cluster" began but that "We hope the numbers come down this week for the sake of our employees." Both AHS and OH&S continue to claim that the situation is "under control."

The workers do not accept these assurances any more than the Cargill workers did when they finally forced the closure of their plant last May, after receiving repeated claims that the workplace was safe as the number of cases spiraled. In that outbreak 950 workers were infected and there were three deaths. Olymel workers are speaking out and demanding concrete measures including immediate closure and full compensation.

The experience of workers in the packing plants and other industries has shown that it is the efforts of the workers themselves and their collective action which has been responsible for success in containing outbreaks and safeguarding the workers. This is why they must have the final say in determining if their working conditions are safe, and the right to have an effective voice and the power to decide what serves the interests of working people and the broad interests of society.

(Photo: UFCW)

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Canada Must Provide Status for All

Migrant Workers Alliance for Change
Demands Action to Protect Migrant Workers

On January 11 the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change called on the Ontario government to respond to the rising number of COVID-19 cases with urgent action, focusing on the sites of largest outbreaks: congregate living and working sites. Their statement reads as follows:

"Long-term care homes, farms with migrant workers, manufacturing sites, warehouses, bakeries, prisons are the centres of crisis. Many of the workers, and those housed or imprisoned there, are low-waged, racialized and migrant. We deserve immediate changes.

"We need #PaidSickDays and #NoEvictions. ALL workers deserve higher wages, emergency income support, and universal access to healthcare -- migrants must not be left behind.

"Just as one example: We proposed specific changes to stop outbreaks in farms in June of 2020. Over six months later, nothing has been done but outbreaks continue TODAY.

"We urge Premier Ford to ensure worker and migrant justice, instead of ensuring profit for the few."

(Photo: Debout pour la dignite)

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Trudeau Government's Gross Disregard
for Human Life: End All Removals Now!

In spite of restrictions on airline flights to Mexico and the Caribbean, forced quarantine of returning travelers and repeated appeals from the Prime Minister and other government and public health officials that now is not the time for international travel, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) has stepped up deportations since the end of November. This ended the temporary suspension of most deportations that was instituted by the CBSA in March 2020. Immigration lawyers were advised on November 30, 2020 of the immediate resumption of removals for all inadmissible foreign nationals in Canada. The announcement came on the day that 7,681 COVID-19 infections had been reported across the country, the highest single-day count since the pandemic had begun, and 98 people had died, the highest daily death toll in almost six months.

From March to December the CBSA claimed that it had prioritized deportations for reasons of "serious" inadmissibilities, those found under s.34 (security), s.35 (human rights violations) and s.36 (criminality) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. The latest report on removals in the 2020-2021 fiscal year (year ending on March 31, 2021) on the CBSA website is that as of July 30, four months into the fiscal year, the total number of enforced removals was 2,438. The total number of enforced removals in 2019-2020 was 11,465. In 2018, the CBSA set a target of 10,000 removals for 2018-2019, with even higher targets for subsequent years, aiming for 15,500 by 2022, so is under pressure to ramp up the number of removals before the end of the fiscal year on March 31.

The report of the Auditor-General presented to Parliament on July 8 last year was critical of the failure of the CBSA to increase the number of removals and proposed various "improvements" including increased incentives for "voluntary removals." News media report that the number of "voluntary removals" has significantly increased. Incentives include government-paid airfare at an often inflated price which has to be repaid should the person who is removed want to return to Canada in the future.

One of the reasons the CBSA has advanced for its change in policy was "the emergence of viable vaccination options" despite the fact that when it resumed removals at the end of November, no vaccine had been approved in Canada. It also claimed that the decision to halt many removals during the pandemic "was an exceptional measure that was not shared by the international community."

Migrants' rights organizations, the Canadian Bar Association, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers and many others have spoken out in opposition to the resumption of removals and called on the government to reinstate the moratorium. They point out the danger to people being removed from Canada and to the CBSA employees that are required to travel with some people to their destinations. People who are under removal orders have to report, sometimes more than once, to CBSA offices and go into the community to make other arrangements for leaving Canada, all of which put them in increased danger of contracting COVID-19. Travel is no less dangerous for these individuals and the CBSA employees that accompany them, in the airports, in the planes and at their destinations, than for any Canadian who has been warned not to travel abroad. The Canadian Bar Association asks that the "CBSA ... adopt and follow a clear policy deeming all removal orders unenforceable due to public health risks."

Undocumented workers are often reported to the CBSA by police and have to avoid situations in which they could have to show identification to police. In Quebec the curfew imposed by the Legault government has created an impossible situation for many workers who are legitimately on the streets going to their jobs but whose lives could be turned upside down if police stop them.

Let us all join with migrants' rights organizations and advocates in calling for an end to deportations and for an end to unjust denials of rights of migrant workers to permanent residence status in Canada!

(Photo: WF, CAC)

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Refugee Lawyers' Association Opposes
Deportation of Refugees During Pandemic

The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (CARL), in a letter to Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and John Ossowski, President of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), states that the decision of the CBSA to unilaterally abandon its policy with regard to deportations "is unsound and places public health in jeopardy." It further notes that the agency failed to identify "any material change in circumstances that would warrant a decision to recommence removals of all foreign nationals -- especially those subject to non-serious inadmissibilities -- at the same time as the country is dealing with the worst days of the pandemic."[1]

"To legally compel individuals to board international flights at this time -- in many cases requiring them to remain in sealed spaces with upwards of hundreds of other individuals for hours on end -- is dangerous and unnecessary," CARL points out.

The Trudeau Liberal government's double standard goes like this: it advises its own citizens and permanent residents to avoid non-essential travel outside Canada until further notice and resumes the removal of a record number of people.

In an article published in The Lawyer's Daily on December 11, CARL President Maureen Silcoff wrote that "Most people who are the subject of removal orders under the Immigration and Protection Act (IRPA) pose no risk to society. They are simply people whose status in Canada has expired. They include visitors, failed refugee claimants, temporary foreign workers and international students. Perhaps they were dropping off groceries on your porch or cleaning hospital emergency rooms before they were told to leave Canada."

She adds that when someone is the subject of a removal order they have no choice but to report and the CBSA website makes it clear what happens if a person decides that doing so is too risky in terms of their health or the health of people they live with. The CBSA website says "If you fail to appear for a removal interview or a scheduled removal date, the CBSA will issue a Canada-wide warrant for your arrest. Once arrested, the CBSA may detain you in a holding facility before removal. In order to ensure you leave Canada, the CBSA may assign an escort officer to accompany you on your departure."

In response to the CBSA's claim that individuals have recourse to "appeals, judicial reviews, and permanent resident applications on humanitarian and compassionate grounds," Silcoff points out that "Many people whom CBSA directs to report for removal cannot hire a lawyer. They are at the end of their immigration process, with little money left for additional legal fees. Yet without a lawyer, deportation is practically impossible to stop. Applying for a 'deferral' of removal to suspend deportation is a discretionary measure that is not known to most unrepresented people, and done properly, involves written submissions accompanied by evidence. Seeking a stay of removal at the Federal Court is even more out of reach for an unrepresented person."

She concludes: "The solution is clear. Until COVID-19 is under control, CBSA must revert to its original pandemic policy," i.e. the policy of reduced removals put in place in March 2020.


1. Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, Letter to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and the President of the CBSA, December 2, 2020.

(Photo: WF)

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