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Politics Ottawa pledges $50-million for Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba to cover asylum-seeker costs

The federal government will provide $50-million to Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba to help them pay for some of the extra costs incurred from an influx of asylum seekers who have been crossing into Canada between official border posts.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said the payment is by no means a final amount for the provinces, which have dealt with the majority of housing and social services costs associated with the surge in border crossers. Quebec, where the majority of asylum seekers have crossed by foot, will receive $36-million, while Ontario will get $11-million and Manitoba will be provided with $3-million.

“We appreciate the pressures Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba are facing and we’ll continue discussions with provinces towards longer-term solutions, including further financial support,” Mr. Hussen told reporters on Parliament Hill on Friday.

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Ottawa’s announcement falls far short of the $146-million Quebec has said it needs to cover unanticipated asylum-seeker costs. In a tweet Friday, Quebec Immigration Minister David Heurtel said the federal government’s announcement is its first concrete recognition of the province’s efforts to deal with the border crossers.

The federal government is working with Quebec and Ontario to develop a “triage system” that would move some asylum seekers to areas outside Montreal or Toronto, where many of them have already settled as they await the outcome of their refugee claims.

In a statement, Ontario’s Immigration Ministry said it looks forward to continuing discussions about further financial support for asylum seekers with the federal government. The province has already pledged up to $3-million to help Toronto manage 800 temporary housing spaces for asylum seekers in college residences.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister welcomed Ottawa’s announcement, adding that he looks forward to talks in the weeks and months ahead.

The RCMP intercepted more than 7,600 asylum seekers along the entire Canada-U.S. border from January to April this year. Despite concerns those numbers will continue to swell during the summer months, Mr. Hussen said the number of daily border crossers has fallen from an average of 83 a day in April to 51 a day in May.

Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel said the government’s announcement is “just another Band-Aid solution” for the real problem: a loophole in a border agreement with the United States that forces Canada to take in asylum seekers who cross between official ports of entry.

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The Safe Third Country Agreement requires both countries to refuse entry to asylum seekers who arrive at official border crossings, as both countries are considered safe for refugees. However, since the agreement applies only to people who arrive at official ports of entry, asylum seekers can avoid being turned away by crossing between border posts.

The Conservatives have repeatedly urged the government to deem the entire border an official port of entry so it can refuse border crossers.

Mr. Hussen says he will discuss “modernizing” the agreement when he meets with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in the coming weeks.

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan wondered why British Columbia, which has seen 153 asylum seekers cross between official border posts this year, was left out of Friday’s funding announcement.


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