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Open letter regarding artist eligibility to access EI during COVID-19

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau:

Canadian Artists’ Representation / Le Front des artistes canadiens (CARFAC), the national association for professional visual artists, calls upon the Federal Government to review and remove barriers to artists who require access to key Emergency Relief programs that have recently been created during this unprecedented time of need.

Firstly, we are truly grateful that the Federal Government has made EI available to independent artists and other cultural workers, many of whom work in the gig economy. According to Hill Strategies: 66% of visual artists are self-employed, the highest percentage among all artistic disciplines, and much higher than the proportions of all artists (52%) and all workers (12%).

The provision of a social safety net is, therefore, very important to visual artists. However, in the current guidelines for eligibility to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), two restrictions to eligibility are causing great concern for artists, and other freelance/gig economy workers from the cultural sector and beyond:

  • The expectation to be without any employment or self-employment for at least 14 consecutive days in the initial four-week period, and
  • The expectation of at least $5000 income in 2019 or in the 12 months prior to the date of application.

The CERB seems to have been created with the idea that we all have a single income source, and you either have it or you don’t. However, most independent artists, designers, curators, etc have multiple and often unpredictable sources of income – some of which have now dried up.

Many artists across the country are concerned that they are ineligible because their incomes are, even at the best of times, strung together from multiple revenue streams. Many of those income sources (royalties, honorariums, contract services, etc) can be quite low, and payments are often few and far between. It is not unusual for artists to receive one-off royalty payments of $50 or less for print or online reproductions, for example. Some of these income streams may still be available to artists, but perhaps not as frequently. Furthermore, while our sector is rapidly adjusting to our circumstances, artists may be offered opportunities to showcase their talent online. Accepting a $325 honorarium for giving a live stream artist talk could mean losing $2,000 in EI benefits. This is not a choice we want artists to have to make: reject work or risk access to basic security.


  • CARFAC recommends that the Government of Canada recognize these small streams of income for artists, and ensure they may not face barriers to emergency support.
  • We recommend that artists and other freelancers who receive payments can have them deducted from CERB payments in the simplest form possible. There are already precedents set for this under previous EI processes, and the ability for artists to deduct their sales and honoraria income from government support would allow artists to keep their businesses open while offsetting the expense to the government wherever possible.
  • We also further support the recommendation from Canadian Collective Management Organizations, including Copyright Visual Arts, that copyright royalty earnings are not to be included in a declaration to CERB, so that artists may continue to benefit from these one-off and often unpredictable sources of income.

We also declare our support for the recommendations of Arts Service Organizations representing museums, art galleries, and craft councils, regarding the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS). Visual artists show their work within the walls of these institutions, and some additionally work there as full-time, part-time, or seasonal employees. We stand in solidarity with them as well as the Canada Council for the Arts, many arts and culture groups across all artistic disciplines, and with organizations focused on small businesses, gig economy workers, and freelancers from all sectors – not just the cultural sector – who will be hindered by these specific restrictions.

We recognize that further details on both the CERB and the CEWS will be released in the very near future. It is our hope that the government will recognize these serious concerns and the barriers they create for those working in creative and freelance industries, and that you will make changes to allow the creative sector to continue functioning, even in the face of great need for all.

As Canadians, and indeed the world, are isolated in their homes, receiving comfort from creative content with an unprecedented appetite, we remind you that our sector is a natural partner in our communal efforts to respond to and rebuild from this crisis. In order to do that, our artists and cultural institutions need fair and equitable access to emergency response benefits.

In Solidarity,

April Britski,  National Executive Director, CARFAC

Paddy Lamb, National President, CARFAC


Cc: Hon. Bill Morneau, PC, MP, Minister of Finance

Hon. Stephen Guilbeault, PC, MP, Minister of Canadian Heritage

Hon. Diane Lebouthillier, PC, MP, Minister of National Revenue

Hon. Jean-Yves Duclos, PC, MP, President of the Treasury Board

Federal Assistance Updates

We are thankful for the changes that have been introduced by the Federal Government to the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (changes announced April 15):

  • There’s no limit on the amount of royalty payments for past works (i.e. those produced by artists before the crisis) that an artist may get while receiving the CERB;
  • Someone receiving the CERB may get paid up to $1,000 a month from other sources of income, without penalty or losing their eligibility (and again, royalty payments aren’t included in that category and may be earned on top of the $1,000);
  • Someone who wasn’t working when the crisis started, but lost contracts or work that would have otherwise started had it not been for the crisis, can qualify for the CERB;
  • People who run out of EI can then switch to the CERB.

Questions and Answers on the Canada Emergency Response Benefit


Photo credit: See-ming Lee