Migrants line up to make asylum claims in QAuebec after crossing illegally into Canada. (Christinne Muschi-Reiters)

Emergency meeting on asylum seekers

House of Commons Immigration Committee to meet today after increasingly tense month on the issue of asylum claimants

Last week a tense meeting between Canada’s federal immigration minister and an Ontario government minister ended in name-calling, an abrupt exit, and demands for an apology.

It was all over the issue of the massive influx of asylum seekers crossing illegally into Canada from the U.S. and who has to pay for them.

Earlier this month  a meeting between Prime Minister Trudeau and the newly elected Premier of Ontario, Doug Ford, began and ended with strong differences of opinion. Prior to that meeting a statement from Ontario was issued saying the massive influx of illegal border crossers was all Ottawa’s fault and the meeting ended with a diplomatically-worded but not too subtle rebuke from Trudeau.

Then on Friday at a meeting of federal and provincial ministers, Ontario’s Community and Social Services Minister Lisa McLeod got into a heated discussion about the issue during which McLeod walked out and later said the Somali-born federal minister called her “un-Canadian”.

Federal Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen also later said the Ontario government was “fear-mongering” and being “divisive”.  McLeod refused to sign the final communique along with a Saskatchewan minister who also said Ottawa has to pay for asylum seekers.

Last week at a federal-provincial meeting on immigration, federal minister Ahmed Hussen said Ontario “had chosen the language of fear and division” (CBC)

In addition to the over 30,000 asylum claimants last year, there have been an estimated 10,000 that have crossed illegally into Canada so far this year.

After the meeting, Ontario’s social services minister, Lisa McLeod says the federal minister labelled her as “un-Canadian” and wants an apology from him.(CBC)

Earlier this year the government of Quebec, the province where the vast majority of illegal entries into Canada occur, said its social services were being overwhelmed and needed over $120 million dollars to cope with what they said was a “federal” responsibility.  Many asylum claimants soon leave the mainly French-speaking Quebec, for Ontario.

With the arrival of the new Ontario government, it too says the asylum problem was a federal responsibility. Ontario and the city of Toronto especially, say they are facing a housing crisis for the migrants and Ottawa must pay.

Ontario says it needs anwhere from $70 to $90 million to cover the various costs. Ottawa says it will provide $11 million to Ontario.

There will be an emergency meeting of the federal House of Commons immigration committee today.

“The refugee determination system is at a crossroads. Once again it is dealing with a surge in claims that it is ill-equipped to manage, running the risk of creating a large backlog that, if not tackled promptly, may take years to bring to final resolution”  (147-page independent immigration review, released June 2018)

The federal opposition parties are now also calling on the government to “undertake a study to review the adequacy of the federal government’s response to the impact of increased asylum seekers crossing into Canada from the United States”.

They want at least two more meetings of the Immigration Committee this summer to hear about the Trudeau government’s plans to deal with the situation.

They are saying federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen should be called to testify along with any provincial ministers and want a federal study completed by August 3.

Many of the asylum claimants in Ontario are currently being housed in university dormitories and Ontario says it will be in a crisis situation when students begin to return to classes in just a few weeks.

The Liberal chairman of the House of Commons committee says he would welcome additional meetings but added that while  he considers it an important issue, he does not see it as a crisis.

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