TORONTO — The federal government has made good on a promise to deliver $11 million to help the City of Toronto defray costs associated with an influx of asylum seekers, a development the province called “an insult” to taxpayers as it demanded further funds.
Border Security Minister Bill Blair made the announcement Friday after meeting with Mayor John Tory, and said more financial support may be provided as talks with the city continue.
“These initial funds have been allocated to help alleviate the immediate pressures being experienced by the City of Toronto,” Blair said. “We continue to work toward longer-term solutions.”
Some of the money will be used to relocate hundreds of irregular border crossers who’ve spent the past few months in dormitories at two major Toronto-area colleges. They will be sent to hotels and motels, Blair said. The dorms at Humber and Centennial colleges will be empty before a previously announced deadline of Aug. 9, he added.
More than 400 new arrivals were living in the dorms at one time, but Blair said that number has dropped considerably in recent days. He said officials reported 272 people still in residence as of Friday morning.
“The federal government announcement today is an important step and helps us address the immediate pressure we faced in housing those living in the two Toronto dormitories,” said Tory. “The minister has also indicated further discussions that will be held on additional funding to come our way.”
The $11 million earmarked for Toronto was announced in June as part of a $50-million commitment to Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba to help cover some of the costs they have borne as a result of the ongoing spike in asylum seekers crossing the Canada-U.S. border irregularly.
Last week, the Ontario provincial government requested $200 million from the federal government to pay the costs of asylum seekers living in Ontario, including other areas in the province such as Ottawa. Lisa MacLeod, Ontario’s minister responsible for immigration, sent a letter demanding the funding after she clashed with the Liberal government over its handling of the asylum-seeker issue.
Blair said on Friday that the federal government is “not having a spat” with the province.
“I’m very interested in working with the province,” said Blair, adding there are “ongoing discussions” with MacLeod regarding the province’s request. “I look forward to hearing more particulars on what those expenses might be.”
A spokesman for Premier Doug Ford said details of the costs incurred by the province were outlined in MacLeod’s letter, which he said Ottawa hasn’t responded to.
Simon Jefferies said Blair’s funding announcement on Friday was an “insult to Ontario taxpayers” who are still waiting for $200 million to pay for asylum seekers’ costs.
“The province of Ontario is demanding the federal government pay their share of the costs related to the illegal border crossers and develop a real long term solution to the border crisis,” he said in a statement.” Tweets, photo-opportunities, and hotel rooms are not the answer.”
Federal Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel also criticized the $11 million given to Toronto, saying it was “another example of an unbudgeted, band-aid solution” by the Liberal government.
“Justin Trudeau can’t keep throwing money at this crisis and hope it will go away,” she said in a statement.
A new survey released Friday shows two-thirds of Canadians consider the current situation involving irregular border crossers “a crisis.” The Angus Reid Institute online poll of 1,500 Canadians asked a number of questions gauging views on how government is managing the border.
Among the findings are that almost half of respondents overestimated the number of irregular border crossers actually coming across the border, and that 59 per cent believed Canada is “too generous” to irregular migrants. Only 27 per cent of respondents said they believed most of the people crossing the border are genuine refugees.
The polling industry’s professional body says online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not randomly sample the population.
Blair said he had seen the results of the poll.
“Unfortunately Canadians have a misperception of people coming and the circumstances of which they’re coming,” he said. “I believe that it is important that we address many of the misconceptions and misinformation that Canadians have heard that quite frankly causes fear.”
Blair added that Ottawa is working with Ontario municipalities to finalize details on a triage system that would manage the flow of asylum seekers and ensure those municipalities have the capacity and resources to house them.
Ottawa announced the triage system in April following concerns raised by the province of Quebec over an influx of asylum seekers flooding temporary housing facilities in Montreal. The system would redirect irregular border crossers from crowded shelters in both Montreal and Toronto.
— with files from Teresa Wright in Ottawa.
Alanna Rizza , The Canadian Press