Ontario formally requests $200 million from feds to deal with asylum seekers

Ontario formally requests $200 million from feds to deal with asylum seekers

OTTAWA — The Ontario government has formally requested $200 million from the federal government to cover costs associated with asylum seekers from the United States.

Lisa MacLeod, Ontario's minister for children, community and social services, sent a letter Thursday demanding financial compensation and expressing concern over the federal government's efforts in managing the issue of "illegal border crossing."  

In the letter, MacLeod, who is also responsible for immigration, said that for over a year Ontario has been straining to support border crossers and that the Liberal government's approach is "now testing the patience and generosity of Ontarians."

The letter to Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos says federal support has been "inadequate" to meet the current and future needs posed by this "crisis."

MacLeod asked Duclos to consider the letter a formal request for "direct and full compensation" for the costs associated with the support Ontario and its municipalities are providing.

Speaking to reporters at the Ontario legislature, MacLeod said the costs are growing and it's time the federal government made Ontario whole financially.

She had warned Ottawa earlier this week, while appearing before a House of Commons immigration committee, that the request would come.

MacLeod says the $200-million figure breaks down as follows: $74 million for shelter costs for the City of Toronto, $12 million for shelter costs for the City of Ottawa, $90 million for social assistance costs her ministry is footing, $20 million for education and $3 million for the Red Cross, which has also helped with temporary housing.

So far the federal government has offered $50 million to provinces, including $36 million for Quebec, $3 million for Manitoba and $11 million for Ontario.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen and Bill Blair, the minister responsible for border security, were copied on the letter from MacLeod.

Hussen's office said in a statement that it had received the request.

Mathieu Genest, a spokesman for Hussen, added the government stands ready to work with Ontario, saying that following Canadian laws and respecting international obligations as they relate to asylum seekers is not an option, it's "a requirement."

"It is disappointing that the Ontario government has decided to view this as a choice, and is playing politics on this issue by spreading disinformation about a vulnerable group of people."

Hussen's office also said efforts are underway to contract hotels to provide immediate, short-term lodging to the approximately 540 people currently housed in college dorms.

Hotel rooms will be booked until the end of September and many families will then move out and find more permanent housing as they await the hearing of their claims, Genest said.

Senior government officials during a briefing Thursday that the Immigration Department will be responsible for locating, booking and paying for the hotel rooms.

Genest said the plan is to put a triage system in place that will help manage the flow of asylum seekers to different municipalities.

A City of Toronto official said the number of asylum claimants in the Humber College and Centennial College residences changes daily. The residences can house up to 800 people — the number MacLeod frequently cites.

In Ontario's Peel region, which encompasses Brampton, Caledon and Mississauga, 31 rooms in hotels and motels have been committed to house refugee families and individuals. Currently there are 26 families, or 77 individuals, in hotels.

Peel has offered to help these families find permanent housing and connect them with settlement agencies.

Janice Dickson, The Canadian Press