Nova Scotia

N.S. fishermen ordered to repay thousands in EI claims

A Cape Breton MP said dozens of people in the northern part of the island have been cut off from Employment Insurance, again.

Fishermen's claims in Bay St. Lawrence rejected again

Fishermen have to log enough hours to qualify for employment insurance. (CBC)

A Cape Breton MP said dozens of people in the northern part of the island have been cut off from employment insurance, again.

Mark Eyking, the Liberal MP for Sydney-Victoria, charges that the federal government is denying the claims of fishermen in Bay St. Lawrence.

More than 180 people living in communities north of Cape Smokey — such as Bay St. Lawrence — were denied their insurance claims after a Service Canada investigation into claims between 2007 to 2010, he said.

That investigation found claimants were working for family members and not maintaining the required arm's-length relationship between employers and employees.. Their claims were reinstated over the winter, while the investigation continued.

But Eyking said the appeals have been rejected and the fishermen have been ordered to repay thousands of dollars.

Eyking raised the matter in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

"Mr. Speaker, Crystal MacKinnon is a widow with two small children. She's worked on her uncle's boat for 20 years. She gets up at four in the morning, baits and sets the traps. This past winter, she was cut off EI and forced to a local food bank. The intimidating appeals process has denied her again," he said.

"This government is chasing people out of seasonal industries like the fisheries, from Atlantic Canada, northern Cape Breton and Quebec. Why is this government attacking our most vulnerable citizens?"

Kellie Leitch, the parliamentary secretary for the minister of human resources, responded by saying the government continues to provide EI to those who need it.

Everyone's related, says Eyking

Eyking said as many as 80 EI appeals in Bay St. Lawrence have already been denied. He said the federal government once again argued those people are not eligible for EI because they work for relatives.

He said in a small community, where everyone's related, that can't be avoided.

Claimants are eligible for Employment Insurance benefits provided the Canada Revenue Agency is satisfied there is an arm's-length relationship between employers and their employees.

According to the Canada Revenue Agency, that means pay, hours and working conditions "must be similar to the ones offered by the employer to other employees or to ones that are offered in an open labour market."

"There is ways of checking this without just assuming that everyone is guilty, I mean no one is defrauding here. These people are working on the boats. They're getting up at five o'clock in the morning, setting traps, working all day long, and if you happen to be working for an uncle, well, what's the difference? Working for an uncle or a neighbour, you're doing the work, you're paying into the system, and you should be eligible like anybody else."

Eyking said this latest decision will leave many people with no income outside the fishing season, and that will devastate the community.