Cornwall, Ontario needs resources to support influx of asylum seekers, mayor says
Cornwall is unable to meet the needs of its growing population of asylum seekers, local officials say, and the eastern Ontario city is trying to recoup costs it says the federal government has passed on to the community.
According to Cornwall Mayor Justin Towndale, that town and the surrounding United Counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry currently bear half the administrative costs of all provincial support programs for asylum seekers in the town.
“We are doing what we can – and we will continue to do what we can to help these people – but at some point we have to stop,” Towndale said. “We will reach our limits”
On Wednesday, he was told by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) that there were 779 asylum seekers in Cornwall and about 3,300 in Ontario, Towndale said on radio station CBC Ottawa morning on Thursday.
About 325 asylum seekers are being housed in the city’s sprawling DEV Hotel and Conference Center, formerly the Nav Centre, he said Thursday. It has 443 rooms and was formerly used as accommodation for people.
Another 150 or so rooms are available for the same purpose at the city’s Ramada Inn and are being used by more than 100 applicants.
Management costs aside, Towndale said he’s concerned about reduced hotel space in the city.
Quebec has long been concerned about the number of asylum seekers entering the province through the infamous Roxham Road border crossing.
One factor is republican states that send people to the Northeast after arriving from Mexico. New York City and organizations there have paid for their bus tickets to Plattsburgh, NY, near the Canadian border, saying it helps people who want to move elsewhere.
Quebec’s immigration minister said Tuesday that an increasing number of seekers are being sent to other countries in the country.
A spokesman for IRCC said in an email to CBC that it was “committed to working with its municipal and provincial partners to ease the pressures they are facing”.
IRCC said hotel arrangements in Cornwall and elsewhere have been made “in direct consultation” with those communities, but Towndale disagrees. He only found out about the Ramada lease through “unofficial channels,” he said.
“No notification, advice or resources,” says MP
The region’s Conservative MP raised similar concerns in the House of Commons last week.
“Months ago the Liberals signed deals with local hotels for a large processing center on Roxham Road but local partners on the ground have received no notification, advice or resources,” said Eric Duncan during Question Time.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Secretary Sean Fraser defended the government’s record while acknowledging the “disproportionate pressure” to relocate asylum seekers to border communities.
“We will continue to support communities that are trying to do their best to cope with an influx of people seeking safe haven in this country,” Fraser said.
Senator Bernadette Clement, who was Mayor of Cornwall from 2018 to 2021, also raised the issue at the Senate Standing Committee on Official Languages last Monday.
Clement said that “recruiting, attracting, retaining” migrants all happens at the community level, but communities often feel left out of the process.
Others are concerned about the distribution of asylum seekers within cities. Ottawa City Councilwoman Stéphanie Plante estimates that Ottawa has received about 300 asylum seekers from Quebec in the past six months.
“That number exceeds what our downtown support centers can handle, so we’re hoping to spread the burden to other parts of the city,” she told Radio-Canada in French on Wednesday.
The capital declared a housing emergency more than three years ago. According to the city, as of December 2022, an average of almost 2,200 people were seeking emergency shelters each night.
Plante believes her ward, Rideau-Vanier, has been disproportionately affected.
“We need help from the federal government to spread the load, including financial support,” she said.
Part of the “normal burden sharing”, says Prof
Mireille Paquet, a political science professor at Concordia University, said the situation should be understood as part of a global displacement crisis with a record number of vulnerable people.
“The reality is that a lot of people end up in Canada because there is nowhere else to seek asylum,” Paquet said.
“We really have to accept that dealing with these arrivals is also just normal burden-sharing in terms of the number of displaced people around the world.”
Cornwall City Council this week passed a motion calling for a meeting with IRCC. After mounting pressure, IRCC agreed to send a department representative to Cornwall this Friday.
“In the end, the asylum seekers will suffer,” he said, “they will remain in limbo. They will have no support at all.”