Quebec Court overrules law barring asylum seekers from using subsidized daycare

A February court ruling condemned Quebec for barring public daycare access to asylum seekers. The federal Department of Justice contends provinces are liable to aid them while Ottawa reviews their files. Quebec documented 59,640 asylum claims last year, according to immigration data.

Quebec Court overrules law barring asylum seekers from using subsidized daycare
AP Photo/Edgar H. Clemente
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Asylum seekers are finally permitted access to taxpayer-funded daycare in Québec, according to a recent Court of Appeal ruling — ending a 2018 policy.

A unanimous February 7 decision condemned the province for barring public daycare access as discriminatory, as it prevents women from joining the workforce, reported CBC News.

Québec previously legislated that asylum seekers seek private daycare alternatives while their claim is heard by Immigration Canada. They argued claimants could only access the public service after the federal government confirmed their status.

However, the Department of Justice contends provinces are liable to aid refugee claimants while their cases are reviewed at the federal level. The painstaking process takes upwards of 14 months to complete.

Québec Premier Francois Legault penned a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last month to outline his concerns about the growing number of asylum claimants in his province. The province's immigration ministry observed a sharp rise in refugee claims over the past two years, up from 10,085 in 2021 to 59,640 last year. 

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante earlier told Global News her constituents are facing challenges to accommodate asylum seekers. "What I question is how do we make sure we can have, we can create more housing opportunities, to me that’s really what we need," she said on January 31.

Asylum seekers have posed considerable challenges to the provision of social services in the province, with 30.2% of the 9,840 Québec labour requests between January 1 and 15 coming from claimants.

But Guillaume Grenier, one of the lawyers representing the asylum seekers, applauded the daycare ruling as historic. "The judge concluded that there was no rational link between the exclusion of asylum seekers [from subsidized daycare] and the government's stated goals," he said.

Bijou Cibuabua Kanyinda, a Congolese national and asylum seeker, arrived in Quebec via Roxham Road in 2018, where she challenged the government ban in court.

She could not access subsidized daycare for her three children and relied on welfare to get by at the time. In 2019, Kanyinda obtained refugee status and could officially send her children to a subsidized daycare.

Comité accès garderie, a group of organizations advocating for asylum-seeker access to subsidized daycare, urged the province not to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.

"Such recourse would be perceived as a serious threat to gender equality, running counter to the government's commitments to progress toward a fair and equitable society," they said.

On January 31, Immigration Minister Marc Miller announced Québec would receive $100 million to partially reimburse the province for their $362 million in asylum expenditures.

"We are very close to the breaking point due to the excessive number of asylum seekers arriving in Quebec month after month," added Legault. "The situation has become unsustainable."

Last February, Legault firmly told Ottawa that asylum seekers could no longer come to Québec through Roxham Road, citing "thinly stretched" resources.

"It is time for Justin Trudeau to put out a new tweet to say not to come anymore because we have exceeded our reception capacity," he said"We have problems with housing, school capacity, and hospital staff. At some point, Trudeau has to send a new message."

Quebec's premier blames Trudeau for promoting an influx of illegal immigrants through a controversial tweet in 2017. Trudeau said Canada would "welcome" all those "fleeing persecution, terror, and war" in response to then-president Donald Trump's rollback on immigration. 

Following the tweet, Roxham Road, in particular, observed a sharp increase in migrants entering the country. In 2022, 39,171 asylum seekers crossed Quebec through the unofficial Roxham Road border crossing.

"We are open to accepting refugees," said Legault last year, when he claimed that most Roxham migrants "are not refugees." 

Roxham Road officially closed last March 24. But a record number of asylum seekers are now entering the country through Montreal’s Trudeau Airport.

According to Immigration Canada data, Québec processed 25,755 asylum claims at the airport last year — more than double the 11,665 claims in 2022.

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