'They dropped the ball': Emerson reeve disappointed with federal budget

'They dropped the ball': Emerson reeve disappointed with federal budget

The reeve of Emerson, Man. says he's frustrated after learning this week's federal budget did not contain any new funds to address the recent influx of refugee claimants.

The quiet town has turned into one of three major entry points for asylum seekers entering into Canada unofficially. 

The federal budget, announced Wednesday in Ottawa, failed to offer new money for asylum seekers crossing into border communities like Emerson, Hemmingford, Que., or Surrey, B.C.

In January and February, RCMP intercepted 161 asylum seekers crossing near Emerson, Citizen and Immigration Canada says.

"I think they dropped the ball," said Greg Janzen, reeve of Emerson. "There are more and more people coming in and we're not getting the support we need." 

Emergency crews in Emerson, including firefighters, have frequently been called to respond to lost or stranded asylum seekers who need help getting to the Canada Border Service Office to file a claim.

The Liberal spending plan did promise $62.9 million over five years for asylum seeker legal aid services, but Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister has said that amount only extends a current program and does not reflect the increase in refugees coming to Canada.

Janzen was hoping the federal government would offer dollars for increased border security, RCMP, medical costs, even money for the Salvation Army.

"Mr. Pallister is very frustrated, as well as I am, because that'll now come out of our personal taxes," he said.

Emerson resident Wally Turton is also worried about who's going to pay for helping newcomers.

"We're going to have to pay for it. That's the bottom line," he said.

"Our tax system is burdened to the point where it just can't take anything more. And by the time these people get processed and if they become tax-paying citizens it could be a number of years, you know? And I don't think we can handle that."

Turton owns an autobody shop in Emerson that he took over from his father. He said he had hoped to see money for increased security at the border.

"I don't like it. You know, like, there should be something there, just because our border's so porous, you know? And just something to plug the gap," he said.

Another Emerson resident, Jacqueline Reimer, said she was disappointed the budget didn't offer an increase in support for her town. She said she doesn't think Ottawa is taking the situation seriously.

Around a month ago, Reimer said a family of asylum seekers, including a child, showed up early in the morning at the restaurant where she works.

"It totally made me see things differently. It made me open my eyes to, you've got to still be human during this process. Yes, some may be criminals, some may be not good, but we've still got to be human," she said. 

"At the end of the day, if you were in their shoes, how would you want to be treated?"

'You do the math': Councillor

With warmer weather in the forecast, the reeve expects the number of people crossing into Canada through Emerson to increase.

"I think the province of Manitoba is already on the hook for millions of dollars," said Doug Johnson, a councillor for the town.

"It's hard to believe the prime minister of Canada has opened his arms to these people but there's no funds to go with it. I mean, you do the math on that."

Janzen said groups of refugee claimants were knocking on doors and windows in town on Monday and Tuesday. He said residents told him it took 20 minutes for RCMP to respond.

"That's kind of unacceptable. I know local residents are not very happy about it. They don't feel safe," he said.

Janzen said adding to his displeasure with the federal government is the fact he's now being "left in the dark" on the numbers of refugee claimants coming across the border.

Border officials had been giving him weekly updates since January, he said, but two weeks ago, those updates stopped. At last count, he said, there were 183 people who had crossed; he suspects now, that number is closer to 300.

"Communication with the federal government has almost ceased; it's almost non-existent," he said.

"It's pretty frustrating when they're not 'fessing up to the things that are happening here in Emerson. We need to know the numbers so that we can support the RCMP. It's frustrating how they're not releasing anymore." 

He hopes the federal government improves communication and offers more support for his town in the months ahead as the weather continues to warm.

"The local people are getting fed up with this already."