Toronto opens 800 beds for asylum seekers, asks for millions in provincial, federal help
After announcing the opening of 800 additional beds for refugee claimants, the City of Toronto is demanding that the federal and provincial governments help cover more than $64 million it will have spent dealing with Canada’s influx of asylum seekers by the end of 2018.
“We’re delighted to have them arrive in our city and make a contribution as previous generations have,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said in an interview with CTV News Thursday. “We just can’t afford to keep doing this alone, and we think the federal government, given that it is global circumstances that lead to this and given it’s ultimately federal policy on admitting people to the country, that they should be helping -- and the province too.”
The additional beds were announced Wednesday, with 400 spaces immediately available at the Centennial College Residence and Conference Centre in Scarborough and 400 more opening up on June 1 at a Humber College residence in Etobicoke. Operating these two locations will cost approximately $6.3 million over the next 75 days, after which students will begin returning to the college residences for their fall semesters. Ontario so far has committed $3 million in Red Cross staffing costs to help operate the two facilities.
“That’s just a start -- and it’s not more than that,” Tory said. “While I’m not satisfied with that as either a long-term or adequate answer, it’s more than has been done by the federal government, which have done basically nothing to help us with this.”
With nearly 2,700 refugee claimants currently utilizing Toronto’s shelter system, they are occupying more than 40 per cent of all available beds, creating “huge pressure” and a “a strain on our system,” Tory said. Without further funds, the city says it will be forced to enact emergency measures and open up community centres to relocate and accommodate new arrivals.
In total, Toronto estimates that it will have spent at least $64.5 million housing asylum seekers in 2017 and 2018 – and it wants both levels of government to cover that, as well as any additional costs.
“For property tax payers to bear that -- even in a big city like Toronto -- is a big burden,” Tory said. “And it’s not a burden that I believe we should be sharing by ourselves.”
Recently, roughly 10 asylum seekers have been arriving in Toronto every day, Tory said, mostly via Quebec. The province has been dealing with the brunt of an unprecedented influx that has seen more than 67,000 refugee claims filed in Canada between Jan. 2017 and April 2018. More than 28,000 of those claimants, government data shows, entered the country illegally.
At current arrival rates, Tory expects Toronto to have 4,485 asylum seekers in its shelter system by Nov. 2018, occupying more than 53 per cent of its beds when the city’s shelter system is “already at an emergency state.”
“We can’t shelter them alone anymore,” he added. “And so far from the federal government, the answer has been pretty scant – like, ‘How about not much at all?’”
Tory also chided the federal and provincial governments for lacking a long-term plan to accommodate refugee claimants as their files are processed.
“I think in the end, what’s going to be best for the refugees and for everybody is if we have a separate sort of parallel system of housing and shelter for those newcomers to Canada,” he said. “I think that should be something these governments should be moving on right away in partnership with us, but in the shorter term, we need more places for them to live because we are full in Toronto and we need some money.”
Tory’s critique was echoed by Conservative MP and immigration critic Michelle Rempel Thursday.
“Every other day, we hear about new issues arising as a result of Justin Trudeau’s lack of leadership on the immigration file,” Rempel said during a press conference in Ottawa, in which she also called on the federal government to make changes to the Safe Third Country Agreement, which is seen as the reason why so many asylum seekers have opted to enter the country illegally.
“In order for Canada to have a compassionate, humanitarian immigration system, you can't have a government erasing the border functionally and have the sustainability of our social programs happen at the same time,” she said.
Meanwhile in upstate New York, where many of the asylum seekers have illegally crossed into Canada from, a group called Plattsburgh Cares has been posting pamphlets in bus shelters and hotels, advising asylum seekers to use unofficial border crossings to get into Canada.
With files from The Canadian Press