Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Cancel Anytime
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

A closed Service Canada location in Toronto on March 26, 2020.

Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

The federal government is shutting the doors to all of its 317 Service Canada Centres – where people can apply in person for employment insurance, Old Age Security, pension benefits and passports – on Friday after employees en masse refused to work.

The government bent to pressure Thursday evening from the Canadian Employment and Immigration Union, which represents 17,000 Service Canada employees, including 3,360 who staff the centres.

Many had called in sick or refused to work because they didn’t feel safe during the coronavirus pandemic, despite safe distancing measures put in place that kept the centres open, said Crystal Warner, executive vice-president with the union.

Story continues below advertisement

The centres were crowded and efforts to control the traffic resulted in long lines outside and sometimes irate visitors, she said. In recent days, so many missed work that 187 centres closed on Thursday – almost 60 per cent of the network.

Under the new measures, staff will still come to work at the centres but the front doors will be locked. People who show up will be redirected to Service Canada’s website and phone number. Staff will help them remotely by appointment, except in rare circumstances where applicants have accessibility issues. In those cases, they can come in to meet staff in sanitized rooms, at a safe distance.

Ahmed Hussen, the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, said Canadians will still be able to access their benefits online and over the phone.

“This will allow more Canadians to get the support they need, while better protecting both them and our staff,” he said in a statement.

Job losses across Canada have exploded in the past two weeks amid a widespread shutdown of the economy to slow the spread of the virus. That overwhelmed the government as almost one million people last week alone filed for unemployment benefits.

The government encouraged Canadians to apply for services available through the centres online, by telephone or by mail instead, asking those with symptoms of COVID-19 to self-isolate and stay away.

It gave protective gloves to employees and posted workers by the doors to limit the number of people inside.

Story continues below advertisement

In normal times, the centres get 11,000 visitors a day, and 95 per cent of EI claimants apply online.

But people complained the jammed website didn’t work or they couldn’t get through on the telephone. Canadians with limited means lost access to the internet as their local libraries shut.

As a result, many went out of frustration to Service Canada Centres despite warnings to stay home. In some cases they braved lineups to file applications in person.

Ms. Warner said tempers boiled over and staff, who she said are among the lowest-paid workers in government, bore the brunt of it. There were altercations at Service Canada Centres in Ontario, Quebec and B.C. after frustrated applicants became aggressive and violent, she said. In some instances, she said people coughed deliberately on staff.

“At some point a lot of our workers got so scared to come in to work they called in sick,” she said, adding “they’re not feeling safe [and] they’re not safe.” The union encouraged members to invoke their right to refuse dangerous work under the Canada Labour Code and several did.

“More workers will come back Friday because the doors will be closed,” Ms. Warner said Thursday after learning of the shutting of the centres.

Story continues below advertisement

“This means more people will be served.”

Ms. Warner credited Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner, who tweeted last week to Mr. Hussen, who oversees Service Canada, that the centres had become crowded and unsafe. She also retweeted Ms. Warner’s message that her attempts to meet with the minister had gone unanswered.

Mr. Hussen thanked the opposition MP on Twitter and asked officials to look into the matter. In an interview Thursday, Ms. Rempel Garner said, “we have to manage the health and safety of our public servants. Now the government has to say how they’re processing” the surge in jobless claims.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this week acknowledged the delays and frustrations newly unemployed Canadians are experiencing applying for benefits, and said “public servants are working around the clock while dealing with unprecedented demand” and that an online application portal will launch “as quickly as possible.”

The government is shuffling 1,300 public servants, many from Passport Canada, into roles processing claims and taking calls.

Mr. Trudeau also announced a new “Canada emergency response benefit” that will provide $1,800 after tax to affected Canadians, replacing two earlier benefits.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the authors of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies