HALIFAX — Atlantic provinces that are willing to welcome some of the thousands of asylum seekers who have entered the country outside official ports of entry will get help from Ottawa to shoulder the cost, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday.
Trudeau told reporters in Halifax that it’s “great news” Atlantic premiers have expressed openness to bringing in some of the would-be refugees who are crossing into southern Quebec at irregular checkpoints such as Roxham Road.
“Just as the federal government has been there to support Quebec through the extra burden that it’s put on their health-care systems, on their housing, we will also be there to work and support the Atlantic provinces who want to help out with this challenge,” Trudeau said.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault has asked the federal government to transfer all new arrivals to other provinces, saying Quebec’s community organizations and social services can no longer handle the increased demand.
In a letter to Trudeau on Sunday, Legault said the province’s capacity to receive refugees has been greatly exceeded, to the point where a growing number of claimants are ending up homeless.
All four Atlantic Canada premiers recently indicated they were willing to do their part in accepting asylum seekers — so long as Ottawa helped with funding. Speaking at the Atlantic premiers meeting in Charlottetown earlier this week, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said some 150 to 200 individuals could be coming to seek asylum in the province.
“It’s a national obligation and we’ll all do our part,” he said Monday.
Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston agreed, saying the province has been asked about taking in some refugee claimants and “we’ll do what we can, for sure.”
However, the premiers said they would need support from the federal government, highlighting challenges such as a lack of housing.
Trudeau did not specify how much money the federal government would offer, or what other supports it would provide to Atlantic provinces.
The prime minister added that his administration is continuing to renegotiate a key border agreement with the United States, adding that the topic of border security will be on the agenda when U.S. President Joe Biden visits Canada next month.
“He understands at what point it’s a priority for Canada, and it’s a shared priority, to work together to ensure the security of our shared border,” Trudeau said of Biden.
Under the Safe Third Country Agreement, signed by Washington and Ottawa in 2002, most asylum seekers cannot make claims at official border crossings between the two countries. But the agreement doesn’t apply to people who cross into Canada outside of a border station — most of whom are not prosecuted because they file an asylum claim.
The federal government has reported that more than 39,000 people claimed asylum in Quebec in 2022 after crossing into Canada outside official ports of entry, mostly through Roxham Road, south of Montreal.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2023.