A group of protesters set up shop outside the Prime Minister's constituency office in Montreal on Saturday, asking the government to do more to aid asylum seekers who are risking their lives working in long-term care facilities heavily affected by Covid-19.
Protesters are stepping forward on behalf of migrants who do not want to be identified, lest they be deported, according to CTV News.
Advocates say hundreds of asylum seekers have been doing essential functions within Quebec's senior homes, which have been hit hard by COVID-19.
“They sacrifice themselves,” Wilner Cayo, president of Stand Up For Dignity, said. “They pay a great price, at least recognize them [by] granting them their permanent residence.”
There are over 800 asylum seekers working as orderlies in long-term care facilities in Quebec, according to Frantz Andre of Action Committee for People Without Status, the group spearheading the protest.
Marcelin Francois was one of these essential workers.
Though his face was on many of the posters waved by protesters, he could not be at Saturday's demonstration. The 40-year-old contracted Covid-19 in April and died in his wife's arms.
Like thousands of others, he crossed into Quebec on Roxham Road, the country's illegal crossing hotspot, which was shut down in March.
Francois, a father of three, worked two jobs, one of which as an orderly.
“These people are saving our seniors, they're saving our parents, our grandparents, and they're risking their [lives] to take care of us,” Montreal lawyer May Chiu said.
Long-term care facilities account for more than 80 percent of deaths throughout Canada, and the danger in working in one of these facilities has led to staff shortages in many regions.
Andre pointed out that migrants are risking their lives to work these essential jobs, and there is no guarantee they will be able to stay in the country.
“A lot of them are from Haiti and other countries and they don’t have the choice but to be working because they don’t have the financial potential to take care of themselves,” he said. “If we don’t take care of them… who’s going to take care of us?”
A Haitian man who attended the protest said that his wife feeds and bathes seniors in a long-term care facility where the coronavirus has taken 18 lives.
“She is working directly with people with COVID-19, and deserves to have her residency application fast tracked,” he said.
But Quebec Premier Francois Legault said that those who arrive in the country illegally are not safe from deportation, even if they do find a job.
“We cannot open the door to say ‘if you come illegally, if you find a job that's okay, I will accept you as an immigrant’,” Quebec Premier Francois Legault said in a press conference. “That’s not the way it works.”
Marjorie Villefranche, the directors of the Maison d'Haiti community centre in the Montreal Neighborhood Saint-Michel, believes migrant workers doing essential work during the pandemic should be upgraded to immigrant status, instead of having to rely on the uncertain refugee claims process.
But this upgrade Villegfranche is asking for does not address the action of illegally coming to a country.
Saint-Michel is one of the neighborhoods suffering the most from Covid-19 in Montreal—and many of its residents are migrants those who work in healthcare.
Of the 27,000 asylum-seekers who arrived in Montreal over the last three years, 5,000 were resettled singlehandedly by The Maison d'Haiti.
“When Covid is over, you’re having to tell them, go back to your countries?” Villefranche told CTV News Montreal in early May. “It would be a shame.”
Ottawa, on the other hand, has told asylum seekers that they will receive a full and fair hearing, but when these hearings are to take place is unclear. All in-person hearings have been suspended due to the pandemic—leaving thousands of households unsure if they will have a future in Canada after the crisis.