500,000 workers cry for help


The number of EI claimants has broken all records in the past week

It is unheard of in Canadian history. Half a million workers have applied for EI in the past week, almost 20 times more than usual.

This figure reveals the scale of the COVID-19 crisis and shows how overwhelmed the federal government is with demands. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the situation “historic” on Friday during a media availability.

By comparison, in the same week last year, Ottawa had approximately 27,000 requests.

“This is, of course, an unprecedented situation that puts a lot of pressure on our system,” said Trudeau.

The Prime Minister said that major efforts had been made to deal with this influx of requests and that “thousands of civil servants” were mobilized.

It’s urgent

The opposition in Ottawa reiterated the urgency to act. “Already before the crisis, there were delays in [employment insurance] applications”, underlines in an interview the Bloc Quebecois MP, Louise Chabot, employment critic.

According to her, Ottawa should have resources to deal with the excess. But we will have to quickly shift to “third gear”, she said, to avoid significant delays in the issuance of employment insurance benefits.

Pierre Céré, from the National Council of the Unemployed, fears for the future.

 He believes that the current structure of employment insurance is unable to cope with the situation.

Not new these deadlines

Like Ms. Chabot, he noted that delays had already been recorded in the issue of payments for several months, even if the unemployment rate was very low in the country, in particular in Quebec.

Currently, a major disorganization is already visible since the telephone lines and internet access were often not accessible this week. 

“It’s chaos,” he says.

According to Mr. Céré, there is an absolute lack of “humans in the machine” to deal with all requests that inevitably contain errors or omissions.

He believes that the federal government should follow the example of Quebec and urgently recall retired public servants.


There was still a lot of traffic at the Service Canada offices on Friday, where people were rushing to get information about their EI application.

 Queues formed outside of several offices in the Montreal region at the start of the day.

To reduce the risk of contamination and filter requests, officials wearing protective gloves were posted at the entrances.

We suggested everyone register online using their home computer.

At least one Service Canada office in the Montreal area, in Verdun, closed on Friday. No explanation was given except to use the online services.

Several people were distraught at the sight of the closed doors. This is the case of this man, who did not want to be identified, who was asked to come and deliver a form in person. The man in his sixties wondered how he would get there via the internet, as the poster suggested
at the entrance.


As the borders are closed, so is the issuance of Canadian passports. It is therefore impossible to recover a passport in person, even if we had made an express request a few days earlier.

This is what happened to Danielle Laferrière on Friday when she showed up at the Guy-Favreau Complex in Montreal.

The Montreal woman still hoped to travel to Cuba, where the sick mother of her Cuban brother-in-law needs support and care.

By dint of talking with the officials on the phone, thanks to the number that was posted on the spot, she finally understood that she had to forget her project. 

However, she was frustrated that she could not get her passport since she had paid for express service. “They don’t know when they are going to open again,” she said.


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