Starting next week, asylum-seekers arriving through the Canada-United States border could be fast-tracked to shelters and services in Ontario if that is their preferred destination.
After a cry for help from Quebec, which claims there could be 400 refugee claimants coming into Canada each day this summer, federal officials said they are working on a “triage” plan.
It’s not clear yet whether refugee claimants will be flown, bussed or sent on a train, but those who indicate, upon arrival, that they want to go to Toronto will soon be hustled out of Quebec.
“We are in the process of working at the officials level with both Quebec and Ontario to determine … what is in the art of the possible, what could it look like,” said one federal official, speaking to reporters on background Friday.
“I think one of the main points to consider is … how would the province of Ontario and Quebec and the municipalities in those provinces like a system to be designed that also suits their needs.”
Parts of the new plan, which was hatched at a meeting Wednesday night, will be in place in the coming days.
“Will it be completely functional by the end of next week? I can’t say, but certainly some basic elements of it will be in place,” said an official.
A spokesperson for Ontario Immigration Minister Laura Albanese said the province is working with Ottawa and Quebec, but that it was too early to comment on details of how and where asylum-seekers might be transferred to Ontario.
Her Quebec counterpart, David Heurtel, said this week that his province had shouldered more than its fair share of the elevated number of asylum-seekers and would begin shutting its 1,850-bed shelter system when occupation rates reach 85 per cent.
Those foreign nationals who avoid official border posts and enter Canada through Roxham Road in Quebec, as most do, are exploiting a loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement. The Canada-U.S. immigration treaty states that an asylum-seeker must make their claim with the government of the country in which they first arrive.
If the person is already on Canadian soil when the claim is made, the rules of the treaty cannot be applied.
According to the RCMP, there were 20,593 people intercepted crossing into Canada between official ports of entry in 2017. Most were picked up at Roxham Road, which connects Champlain, N.Y., with Hemmingford, Que.
Last year, there were some 51,000 people who sought asylum in the country, a number that includes those who entered through traditional methods and those who crossed into Canada illegally.
Already this year, there have been 6,373 irregular crossings. Most of those arriving have come from Nigeria, Colombia, the United States, Pakistan and Haiti.
Some have been living south of the border and decided to flee the country due to U.S. President Donald Trump’s crackdown on immigration. Others have flown into the U.S. on tourist visas with the sole purpose of making a refugee claim in Canada.
Federal immigration officials are trying to inform potential claimants that they must meet strict standards before they will be granted asylum. The department has aimed information campaigns at diaspora communities and is also working with American border and immigration authorities to control and prepare for the flow.
Once an asylum-seeker has arrived in Canada and been processed for a hearing with the Immigration Refugee Board, they are permitted to move wherever they wish in the country. To ease the strain on big cities, immigration officials hope to start providing better information about housing and job opportunities that may lead newcomers to smaller communities better able to absorb them into their workforce and housing market.
“Maybe it’s a question of an asylum-seeker who only knows of the city of Toronto or Montreal. They’re not actually educated enough about our country and that’s our responsibility to help them make informed decisions about where they could live ….”
But officials steadfastly refuse to say how many people they expect to see flowing across the border as the weather begins heating up or when the school year ends for the summer.
“It’s near impossible to predict the future arrivals to the country by irregular migration,” said one border official.
“We do know right now that we have roughly, on average, anywhere from 75 to 80 people a day crossing through the Roxham Road location. A few weeks ago that might have been as low as 50 a day. It’s very difficult to say where we’re going.”