Migrant Workers Alliance for Change hosted a multi-city rally Saturday, July 4, 2020. (Migrant Workers Alliance for Change/Twitter)

Migrant Workers Alliance for Change hosted a multi-city rally Saturday, July 4, 2020. (Migrant Workers Alliance for Change/Twitter)

Migrant workers stage multi-city action for full status amid COVID-19 risks

‘COVID-19 has exacerbated an existing crisis’

Migrant workers and other non-permanent residents — many of whom have been working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic — took to the streets in cities across Canada on Saturday, calling on Ottawa to grant them greater rights and protections.

Temporary foreign farm labourers, care workers, international students and undocumented workers who have been working throughout the pandemic as “essential workers” say they are being left behind by the Canadian government.

“Our people are literally starving. People are dying, not even to grow food, but to grow flowers and grapes for wine. Domestic workers are trapped in homes by employers who won’t let them out because migrants are seen as carriers of disease,” said Syed Hussan, executive director of Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.

“COVID-19 has exacerbated an existing crisis.”

Many migrant workers have fallen ill and cannot access medical treatment, while others have not received wage top-ups offered to other essential workers.

Meanwhile, migrant or undocumented workers and asylum seekers who have lost employment due to the pandemic are ineligible for emergency income supports such as the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit, making them even more vulnerable.

It all stems from their non-permanent status in Canada.

Canada’s labour laws, social services, health care and education systems offer different levels of access to non-permanent residents — a reality that advocates have long decried as intrinsically unjust. The pandemic has now exacerbated those inequities and has placed migrant workers at significant personal risk, Hussan said.

“What we weren’t planning for is the absolute misery and chaos that would be caused in a public health pandemic,” he said.

Demonstrations organized by the Migrant Rights Network were held Saturday in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Halifax at the offices of members of Parliament, including the office of federal Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino.

The demonstrators and advocates are calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to grant permanent residency to all non-permanent residents in the country to give them the ability to protect and care for themselves and their families during the pandemic.

Participants in the Montreal event, which was attended by a few hundred people Saturday morning, held signs that read, “Status for all” and “We are all essential,” among others.

The cross-country action comes a week after the death of Juan Lopez Chaparro, a 55-year-old father of four who has been the third migrant farm worker to die from COVID-19 in Canada.

The federal Liberals have said they are working on a program to grant permanent residency specifically to asylum-seekers working in health care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many of their refugee applications are in limbo due to a backlog at the Immigration and Refugee Board and further delays caused by the pandemic, meaning their status in Canada remains uncertain in the long term.

But Hussan says the government should commit to regularizing the status of all non-permanent residents, not just a select few.

“Everyone must have the same rights, the same protections. That’s only possible if everyone has the same status,” Hussan said.

Floriane Payo, an asylum seeker from Cameroon who came to Canada last year, joined the rally in Montreal on Saturday to demand status for herself and others who’ve been working throughout the COVID-19 pandemic but are not in the health-care sector.

Payo was working in a call centre in Montreal at the height of the pandemic in March and April, but the company closed temporarily in April, she said, after a worker tested positive for COVID-19.

It would be unfair for the government to regularize health-care workers only, she said.

“We too are essential workers,” said Payo.

Teresa Wright , The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Migrant Workers

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A photo from an early construction stage taken in the fall of 2020. (Photo Contributed)
Elkford’s Meeting Place comes to life

Construction on the outdoor space is set to wrap up this coming summer

The RDEK is accepting applications for the CBT’s Community Initiatives and Affected Areas Programs. File Photo)
CBT’s Community Initiatives and Affected Areas Programs accept proposals

Sparwood reminds residents to apply for the grants prior to Jan. 18 at 2 p.m.

A woman wearing a protective face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 walks past a mural in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
115 new COVID-19 cases, no new deaths in Interior Health

There are now a total of 4,970 cases in the region

Sparwood mayor David Wilks was in attendance at the street party to discuss potential changes to Centennial Square.
Closing the border not viable: Wilks

Sparwood Mayor David Wilks said shutting B.C. just wasn’t possible

Trees destroyed a Shoreacres home during a wind storm Jan. 13, 2021. Photo: Submitted
Shoreacres resident flees just before tree crushes house

Pamala DeRosa is thankful to be alive

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
536 COVID cases, 7 deaths reported as B.C. find its first case of South African variant

Henry said 69,746 people have received their first dose of the COVID vaccine.

Letisha Reimer died Nov. 1, 2016 after being stabbed at Abbotsford Senior Secondary.
No evidence that killer was in ‘psychotic state’ during Abbotsford school stabbing: Crown

Second day of closing arguments at ‘not criminally responsible’ hearing for Gabriel Klein

Alan Davidson was sentenced to almost six years for abusing seven boys in the late 1970s and early 1990s. (Canadian Press file)
Full parole granted to former Mountie, sports coach convicted of sex abuse of boys

Alan Davidson convicted of abusing boys in B.C. and Saskatchewan in late ’70s, early ’90s

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The first COVID-19 vaccine arrives in B.C. in temperature-controlled containers, Dec. 13, 2020. (B.C. government)
More vaccine arrives as B.C. struggles with remote COVID-19 cases

Long-term care homes remain focus for public health

Basil Fuller. Photo: Watershed Productions
Missing Voices: Touchstones museum profiles underrepresented groups

Touchstones Nelson interviewed 15 people about their experiences living here

The first Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine dose in Canada is prepared at The Michener Institute in Toronto on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Doses of COVID-19 vaccine expected in 60 B.C. First Nations by next week

B.C. has allocated 25,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to First Nations for distribution by the end of February

Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone questions the NDP government in the B.C. legislature, Feb. 25, 2020. (Hansard TV)
Todd Stone says he’s not running for B.C. Liberal leadership

Kamloops MLA was widely viewed as a front-runner

Most Read