August 2, 2021 - No. 64

Full Status for All!
Uphold the Rights of All!

Ottawa Demonstration Demanding Full Status for All a Resounding Success

• Trudeau Government's New Self-Serving Regulations for Temporary Foreign Workers - Steve Rutchinski 

• Fight in Quebec for Free Health Care Coverage for Workers with Precarious Migratory Status and Their Families - Diane Johnston

Full Status for All!
Uphold the Rights of All!

Ottawa Demonstration Demanding Full Status
for All a Resounding Success

On July 25, more than 3,000 people marched through the streets of Ottawa demanding that the Canadian government grant full and permanent status to all migrants. Migrants and supporters came to Ottawa from many parts of the country, including Toronto and Montreal. The demonstration marched past the U.S. Embassy, through the Bytown Market and made a stop at the Prime Minister's Office on its way to Parliament Hill. As one of the speakers at the rally emphasized, "Migrants are essential to our society, essential to our communities. We work here. We live here. But we are denied equal treatment. We are treated like second class citizens. We are fighting for our rights!"

The march in Ottawa was the culmination of a week of militant actions by migrant workers, their defence organizations and their supporters to advance their campaign for Status for All! Throughout the week, activists held actions in various neighbourhoods in Montreal to promote the campaign and to mobilize for the march in Ottawa.

The week of action kicked off with a mass action in Montreal on July 18. Over 200 people gathered at 11 am at Hector-Toe-Blake Park near Atwater Metro. For over an hour and a half, participants marched through downtown Montreal, ending at the offices of Quebec Premier François Legault on McGill College Avenue.

Montreal march July 18, 2021, kicks off a week of actions leading up to Ottawa march

Participants were informed that Canada has rejected double the number of applications for permanent residence based on Humanitarian and Compassionate grounds, increasing from 35 per cent in 2019 to nearly 70 per cent in the first quarter of 2021. The conclusion: a real regularization program for all is needed. Many undocumented workers spoke about their situation. Mostafa Heneway, a community organizer with the Immigrant Workers Centre, underscored that "status for all is simply a necessity. [...] It will allow people to live with basic dignity, people who have already contributed, already suffered and people who also aren't going to beg anymore. This is why this movement is so critical, because status for all [...] is going to happen because migrants are organizing themselves and we're here to support them. Un status pour tous! We'll see it if we support those who are already struggling."

Conditions of Undocumented and Migrant Workers
Worsen Under Pandemic

The dire conditions and negation of rights facing migrant workers has worsened during the pandemic and must be taken up for solution by all working people.

 The Migrant Rights Network explains the aim of its Status For All! campaign as follows:

"Across the country migrants have been organizing for full and permanent immigration status for all. Massive wins have been secured, but there is still a crucial final step. We will not stop until everyone has full and permanent immigration status, with no exceptions. We will leave no one behind."

It explained in its call for the march on Ottawa:

"At least 14 farmworkers have died in Canada this year. Another half a dozen international students have died by suicide. Migrants have always been in crisis but this crisis has worsened during COVID-19. Migrants have lost work and wages during the crisis but many have been shut out of emergency supports. Those already without wages have been abandoned. They cannot pay rent, have faced starvation, lost life savings and are sacrificing essential health care.

"Others have been forced to keep working or return to work in dangerous conditions. Migrants on farms, in greenhouses, meat and food processing plants and factories have been hit with massive COVID-19 outbreaks. Migrant care workers remain trapped in the homes of their employers, facing greater surveillance, abuse and violence. Migrant students, working in low-wage jobs in warehouses and as delivery drivers, have had their tuition fees hiked to subsidize Canadian universities and colleges.

"In 2020, Canada closed its borders even to refugees. But in the same year more people were deported by the federal government than in any of the previous five years. Even life-saving health care, including vaccines, are being denied to many migrants.

"Today, 1.6 million people in Canada, 1 in 23 residents, are without permanent resident status. Many are excluded from health care and social services and cannot unite with their families. Lack of permanent resident status makes it difficult, and often impossible, for migrants to speak up for their rights or access services, including those they may be eligible for, because of a well-founded fear of reprisals, termination, eviction and deportation.

"Bad employers and institutions use immigration status as a tool to divide and pit workers against each other -- citizens against non-citizens -- to keep wages low and profits high. Full immigration status for all is an essential step towards eliminating inequalities in the workplace and necessary for a transition to a just and sustainable economy of care."

(Photos: Solidarité sans frontières, MRN, WAC, D. Ladd)

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Trudeau Government's New Self-Serving
Regulations for Temporary Foreign Workers

On July 26, one day after a lively very successful demonstration converged in Ottawa, organized by migrant rights advocacy groups, to call for equal rights, equal access to services and Status for All! migrant workers, the Trudeau government announcement that it will pass new regulations "to improve protection of temporary foreign workers." It is a cynical ploy to curry votes in an upcoming election when in fact the government's intention is to secure the supply of cheap migrant unprotected labour for agribusiness. Their cynicism is such they say the new regulations will make "our" food supply chain more secure -- when in fact most of the agricultural production of the mega-corporations involved in Ontario, BC and Quebec is shipped south to the U.S. and reimported to Canada in the form of ketchup and other consumer products.

The proposed new regulations are said to be about improving protections for temporary foreign workers in employment contracts, housing, health care and to weed out "bad actors" that take advantage of the vulnerability of migrant workers. The Trudeau Liberals point to changes made earlier this year that allow migrants with employer-specific work permits to change employers and to start work while a new permit is being processed. The government has even created a Job Bank bulletin board that connects eligible employers with temporary migrant workers looking to change jobs.

Any benefit to the workers is only incidental to government pay-the-rich schemes. Last year, for example, the federal government gave the agribusiness monopolies $50 million toward the cost of the mandatory 14-day self-isolation public health requirement for incoming migrant farm workers. This year the federal government will give them another $35 million in Emergency on Farm Support to upgrade the living accommodations of migrant workers.

Agribusiness monopolies had great difficulty hiring migrant workers last year, due to the global pandemic. In March 2020 there were 43 per cent fewer temporary migrant agricultural worker arrivals in Canada, compared to the same period the year before. These workers were compelled to work dangerous and intolerable hours -- 15-hour days, 7-day weeks. Migrant Workers Alliance for Change reported more than 1,100 such overtime pay complaints between March and May of 2020 with not a single worker compensated. Will the federal government make sure these workers are properly compensated?

Workplace injuries soared. Even with the reduced numbers of migrant farm workers, bunkhouse accommodations were still overcrowded. COVID-19 outbreaks were common. Migrant workers died as a result. The longstanding lack of access to medical services for migrant farm workers only compounded the situation. The new regulations are said to require all employers to provide reasonable access to healthcare services, and for employers to provide health insurance when needed but what that means in practice remains to be seen. It is a far cry from guaranteeing health care as a right.

The government pledged to launch a discussion on migrant farmworker housing and allocated more funding for inspections of existing accommodations. In 2018 a federally commissioned study found "a wide variation of what is deemed as acceptable housing standard" and "gaps in the housing inspection process" that "can potentially cause harm or injury to the workers." That study could not avoid the elephant in the room that there is no national standard for temporary migrant farmworker housing. Even when inspections find housing unsafe there are no repercussions because there are no enforceable standards. What more needs to be discussed before the workers' rights to adequate housing are enforced?

The "bad actor" in this whole scenario is the Canadian state and its systemic discrimination and denial of the human rights of migrants. Migrants are made vulnerable, denied equal rights and denied equal access to services by the very programs the Canadian government has put in place to serve the needs of the rich. Better regulation of systemic discrimination does nothing to end the discrimination. The solution lies in affirming the rights of all. "Status for All!' is the demand of migrant workers, migrant advocacy organizations and the Canadian working class.

(Photos: MRN, J4MW)

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Fight in Quebec for Free Health Care Coverage for Workers with Precarious Migratory Status
and Their Families

Quebec has been the stage of a decades-long battle for free health care coverage for workers with a precarious migratory status and their families.

In Quebec, successive governments have all intentionally violated the intent of Quebec's Health Insurance Act as well the Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1989, to which Canada is a signatory and which Quebec has endorsed through an order in council. Their violation of Quebec, Canadian and international law goes so far as to refuse coverage to the children of workers with a precarious migratory status born in Quebec, despite the fact that they are Canadian citizens, while the federal government turns a blind eye.

These children are deprived of their right to health care through the refusal of coverage for them by the Quebec Health Insurance Board (RAMQ), which is directly accountable to the Minister of Health and Social Services.

Adding insult to injury, in 1992 under the Quebec Liberal government, a 200 per cent surcharge for medical fees was applied and continues to be billed to the parents of these children.

Besides Quebec's Ombudsman, many advocacy groups have been fighting for the right to health care for all children living in Quebec including Doctors of the World Canada, the Quebec Immigration Lawyers Association (AQAADI), the Early Childhood Observatory, the Caring for Social Justice Collective, the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission, the Roundtable of Groups in the Service of Refugees and Immigrations (TCRI) and the list goes on.

Presently, a class action law suit awaits a hearing date at Quebec's Court of Appeal on behalf of a couple, their daughter and all children who are Canadian citizens living in Quebec who have been denied access to health coverage through the RAMQ as a result of their parents' immigration status. The action, first filed on July 9 of last year at the Superior Court, alleges that the exclusion of these children is contrary to Quebec's Health Insurance Act and that it violates the fundamental rights of these Canadian children, including their rights to life, security and integrity as protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. They further argue that this government practice is discriminatory.

Medical fees of close to $7,000 were billed to the mother of the child upon giving birth. An additional fee of $2,500 was also sent for the night the baby spent in hospital after her birth. Shortly thereafter the child had health issues requiring hospitalization, resulting in a new bill of close to $15,000. No refund is forthcoming as access to the RAMQ was refused for the baby, despite the fact that she is a Canadian citizen. Such practices are "completely illegal" says the couple's lawyer. Damages and interest are also being claimed for all families that are part of the class action lawsuit targeting the Ministry of Health and Social Services, which was contested by Quebec's Attorney General.

Then surprisingly, on December 10 of last year, on the occasion of International Human Rights Day, Christian Dubé, Quebec Minister of Health and Social Services, introduced Bill 83, "An Act respecting mainly the health insurance plan and presscription drug insurance plan eligibility of certain children whose parents' migratory status is precarious". Having received royal sanction on June 11, the legislation is to go into effect by government decree between now and the end of September.

Through the new legislation, most children in Quebec of parents with a precarious migratory status will finally be provided health care coverage free of charge. This includes all children born in Quebec as well as children accompanying their parents who have a study permit, a visitor's permit longer than six months, a work permit not tied to a specific employer, or in an irregular immigration situation, in other words, without legal status.

A little over a month after the bill had been introduced, on January 18 of this year, the Superior Court issued a judgment granting a motion from the Attorney General of Quebec for declinatory exception seeking the dismissal of the Class action. The Superior Court concluded that it did not have jurisdiction to hear this class action, declaring that applicants should instead apply to the Administrative Tribunal of Quebec.

So on the one hand, the Legault government is expanding health care coverage for most children of parents with precarious migratory status for so-called reasons of equity and fairness and on the other is fighting in the courts against compensating the parents of children deprived of their basic human right to health care, not to mention the denial of that right for themselves even during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Furthermore, since May of 2018, Quebec's Ombudsman, Marie Rinfret, has been decrying the fact that the RAMQ has been using "a restrictive, if not a faulty, interpretation of the Act and the Regulation." She has noted that the RAMQ "correlates their eligibility with their parents' migratory status" and that these children can be deprived of the health and social services they need if their parents cannot afford the costs."

In her view, the solution lies in applying the Act as written, as it "presumes an interpretation of the notion of a child born in Quebec and settled in Quebec that respects the legislator's intention to distinguish children's status from their parents' migratory status for public health plan eligibility purposes."

All of this begs the question: Why is the Legault government implementing amendments to not only the Quebec Health Insurance Act, and the Act respecting prescription drug insurance, but also the Regulation respecting eligibility and registration of persons in respect of the Régie de l'assurance maladie du Québec and the Regulation respecting the basic prescription drug insurance plan?

The Legault government and those before them seem intent on following the same path as their federal counterparts, in this case through the violation of international, federal and Quebec law and charters and increasingly adopt regulations they can easily modify through dictate.

On the issue of the deprivation of rights, the Legault government, just like its federal counterpart, is on the defensive and we must continue to hit hard, until such time as permanent residency status is granted to all migrants with a precarious status. The dictum "Good Enough To Work, Good Enough To Stay" is a principle we fight for and defend. Permanent residency in this case would also give all migrants with precarious status access to health care.

At the same time, we must remain vigilant with regard to the manoeuvres being made by both levels of government and not be taken in by them.

With justice on our side, the battle for rights must be played out on all fronts, including in the election arena both federally, most probably this year, as well at the Quebec level next year.

Our battle cry must be for our own empowerment as human beings and our right to determine our own affairs.

Nothing short of that will guarantee our success, so let's all join in!

(Photo: Caring for Social Justice)

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