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Politics Ottawa says Ontario must co-operate if it wants $200-million reimbursement for asylum-seeker costs

A group of asylum seekers wait to be processed in Lacolle, Que., in August, 2017. Many asylum seekers that have entered Canada through unofficial border crossings are moving to Ontario and the province is seeking from Ottawa $200-million in costs to resettle them in the province.

Christinne Muschi/Reuters

The federal government says Ontario must co-operate with Ottawa if it wants to be reimbursed for costs associated with the resettlement of asylum seekers, including the $200-million it is demanding.

In a letter released on Thursday, Ontario Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod said the federal government owes the province $200-million for the costs of resettling thousands of asylum seekers who have crossed the Canada-U.S. border. A senior federal immigration official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity on Thursday, said Ontario will have to talk to Ottawa if it wants to seek reimbursement for any costs associated with asylum seekers, as other provinces and municipalities have.

“We have sat down on the federal side and we have engaged those provincial and municipal officials and we’ve worked out to understand the numbers," the official said. "That process would have to go on with any of these other requests that come out. It’s a number – well, let’s talk about that.”

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Related: Ontario seeks $200-million from Ottawa to cover cost of resettling asylum seekers

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Earlier this month, Premier Doug Ford withdrew Ontario’s support for the resettlement of the asylum seekers, saying that the federal government created the problem and should pick up the tab to fix it.

Federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen’s office acknowledged Ms. MacLeod’s letter on Thursday, but encouraged Ontario to return to discussions about resettling asylum seekers so the governments can work together to address the matter.

“With Ontario’s decision to not participate in discussions surrounding asylum seekers, we are engaging directly with municipalities in order to implement our plan,” Mr. Hussen’s press secretary, Mathieu Genest, said in a statement on Thursday.

“However, as we have done with Quebec and Manitoba, we are always willing to work with provinces to address shared challenges related to asylum seekers.”

Ms. MacLeod’s letter, formally addressed to federal Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Jean-Yves Duclos, said the government’s approach to dealing with asylum seekers streaming into Canada “is now testing the patience and generosity of Ontarians.”

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“Our government estimates the cost to Ontario so far to support the crossers to be $200-million. Federal support to date has been inadequate to meet the current and future needs posed by this crisis,” Ms. MacLeod wrote.

Ms. MacLeod said the $200-million in costs relate to $74-million in temporary housing costs in Toronto; $3-million identified by the Red Cross for temporary shelters; $12-million for the City of Ottawa; $90-million in social-assistance costs; and $20-million for primary- and secondary-education spaces.

Speaking to an emergency meeting of the House of Commons immigration committee in Ottawa earlier this week, Ms. MacLeod said the $11-million Ottawa set aside to help Toronto deal with the added costs for asylum seekers is a far cry from the $74-million tab the city will rack up this year.

Meanwhile, the federal government is working with Toronto to move 540 asylum seekers out of college dormitories by Aug. 9 to make room for the arrival of students. The federal official said the asylum claimants will be put up in hotels until Sept. 30, during which time officials will help them find more permanent housing.

The number of asylum seekers arriving in Canada between official ports of entry is falling each month, according to statistics from the federal Immigration Department. In June, the RCMP intercepted 1,263 border crossers, down from 1,869 in May and 2,560 in April. The numbers are still significantly higher than June, 2017, however, when 884 asylum seekers entered Canada along the U.S. border.

The federal official said the majority of border crossers at the main unofficial border crossing in Lacolle, Que., continue to be from Nigeria, followed by people from Haiti, Congo, Colombia and Turkey.

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Tory immigration critic Michelle Rempel is urging the Liberals to come up with a better plan to deal with asylum seekers crossing from the U.S. at unofficial points. The House of Commons immigration committee is meeting Tuesday. The Canadian Press
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