Cape Breton village hit by EI issues opens food bank
Dozens of Bay St. Lawrence residents were denied Employment Insurance
People in northern Cape Breton who have been cut off from Employment Insurance say they're grateful some volunteers in their community have set up a food bank.
Feed Nova Scotia delivered more than 1,000 kilograms of food to Bay St. Lawrence last week, where volunteers have set up the food bank in the local community centre.
"It definitely didn't feel very good. I mean, I don't think that I should be having to use it but you have to do what you have to do," said Clara MacKinnon.
"They were very welcoming and they were comforting and they said if I didn't feel comfortable coming, they could deliver it."
MacKinnon, who fishes with her father, is one of dozens of people in northern Cape Breton who have had their Employment Insurance claims denied in the midst of an ongoing investigation by the federal government.
Service Canada said a multi-year investigation found claimants were working for family members and not maintaining the required arm's-length relationship between employers and employees.
Officials are now reviewing about 30 of those claims to see whether Employment Insurance benefits will be reinstated for this year.
MacKinnon said while she waits, she has two small children and no income. She made her first visit to the food bank this week.
"To tell you the truth, I really am not getting by right now," she said.
"The winter's coming. Where are we going to get money for wood, for winter clothing? There's just no jobs to make any money here. I tried."
Service Canada told CBC News 11 fishing operations in northern Cape Breton were deemed "suspicious" after regular monitoring of Employment Insurance claims.
The agency said 182 claims involving 102 individuals were reviewed and 44 people were cleared of wrongdoing after a year-long investigation by the Canada Revenue Agency.
The others had their claims denied.
Helen MacKinnon said working for relatives has been a way of life for generations.
"I have not done anything wrong, to my knowledge," she said.
"I worked for what I got. I always have. So I mean, do what you need to do but please don't pick on the ones who did their jobs. That's all I ask."