Plan to triage asylum seekers stalled by Ontario provincial election
Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport, makes an announcement regarding the Oceans Protection Plan in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday May 16, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ben Nelms
Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, May 30, 2018 9:45PM EDT
OTTAWA -- A plan to "triage" asylum seekers crossing the Canada-U.S. border illegally, in an effort to move some migrants out of Quebec and into Ontario, has stalled because Ontario is in the midst of a provincial election.
Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau says Ontario civil servants have been working on details of the plan with the federal government and Quebec, but nothing can be finalized until a new provincial government is in place.
"There's a lot of very hard work being done by civil servants who work for Immigration Ontario to look at the whole issue of the triage, which is more than just a reception centre. It's the whole process of absorbing people who want to go to Ontario. And that entails resources -- financial resources, and other kinds of resources, manpower resources," Garneau told reporters Wednesday.
"There is an election going on and, when it's all in place, there will be a requirement to get the new government of Ontario, whatever that government is, to sign onto that."
The ad hoc intergovernmental task force on irregular migration met Wednesday evening to discuss the ongoing issue of illegal border crossers and how to address pressures facing Quebec, where the vast majority of irregular migrants are arriving.
The group of federal and provincial officials also met last month, when they reached agreements on measures including the creation of a so-called triage system to identify asylum seekers interested in going to areas outside Montreal or Toronto to await the outcome of their refugee claims.
So far, the system has not materialized.
Quebec Immigration Minister David Heurtel says his province's resources are becoming strained. More than 9,000 refugee claimants have crossed into Canada through unofficial paths along the border so far this year, with 90 per cent of them landing in Quebec.
A majority of the primarily Nigerian asylum seekers who have arrived this year have indicated they want to live in Ontario. That's why Heurtel says he wants to see the triage system up and running, to help facilitate travel and other arrangements for those who want to go to Ontario.
"For us it is important to see that people who do not want to be in Quebec do not have to stay in Quebec," he said in French.
Heurtel noted that all federal resources and claims processing centres for these migrants are in Montreal, which is why many of them are remaining there despite wanting to leave.
Garneau said all they can do is continue to work on the details, which he says are complex.
"Very significant progress has been made on what is a fairly complex operation," he said.
"It includes accommodations and other service that are provided. And of course, like Quebec, which is getting near full capacity, Toronto is getting near full capacity. So there's also a conscious effort to see whether, while people are going to Ontario, whether they would go to smaller centres in Ontario."
Concerns have also been raised by both Quebec and Ontario about costs they say the provinces have borne as a result of the surge of irregular migrants.
They're looking to Ottawa for reimbursement, with Quebec seeking $146 million and the city of Toronto recently stating it needs $64 million to recover its costs.
Garneau said Wednesday those financial negotiations are ongoing.
Meanwhile, federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said the month of May has seen a drop in the number of irregular migrants, which he attributes to getting the message out that crossing the border illegally is no free ticket to Canada.
In April, an average of 83 asylum seekers were crossing per day. So far in May the average has been 51 per day.
But Heurtel says the federal government must also do more to reduce the amount of time it takes to process the refugee claims.
Many of these border-crossers are well aware there are significant delays, and this is an incentive for them to come to Canada illegally, he said.
"For us this is the heart of the problem."