Windsor to ask Ottawa for taxpayer money to house migrants

'We are a welcoming community. We are a very diverse community. In no way was it our intention or the recommendation in this report to say, 'we don't want them in our community.' What we're saying is we need support, we need the resources, we need the help,' says one Windsor official.

Windsor to ask Ottawa for taxpayer money to house migrants
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Windsor city councillors will write to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), asking for support from the federal government to address the city's growing migrant problem.

Without federal involvement, Windsor "does not have the capacity or resources to support additional asylum claimants beyond those estimated based on the current number of secured temporary accommodations." 

Windsor City Council will ratify the vote on their request on March 20.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault previously told Ottawa that migrants and asylum seekers could no longer come to Canada through Roxham Road, citing Quebec's "thinly stretched" resources to accommodate more migrants.

"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," said Legault. "We have problems with housing, school capacity, and hospital staff. At some point, Trudeau has to send a new message."

Lacolle, Quebec — the location of the infamous Roxham Road crossing site — housed 25 migrants in hotels in 2018, but that increased to 615 in 2022. 

Dorval has north of 10,000 asylum seekers receiving hotel accommodation — 10 times the 2021 numbers. Before 2021, no asylum seekers required "accommodations" at Dorval.

Windsor's Ward 2 councillor Fabio Constante raised concerns about housing Wednesday, which the city's human and health services commissioner, Andrew Daher, said is on their radar.

"If and when these individuals leave the hotel and find housing … if that falls through, then they have nowhere else to go."

Legal Assistance lawyer David Cote said the root of the problem lies in the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) due to its limitations on border crossings. 

"As long as the federal government continues to implement the STCA without regard to the treatment of asylum claimants in the United States, we will continue to see people entering Canada," Cote told the community services standing committee.

Roxham Road observed a sharp increase in migrants entering the country in recent years, with 39,171 asylum seekers crossing into Quebec in 2022 through the unofficial border crossing.

"We cannot give services to so many people ... It takes time to build houses. We cannot tomorrow decide that we can add 36,000 places for them," added Legault.

However, Cote claims: "A cap on numbers has not and will not work."

Legault reignited the issue last week after asking the prime minister to renegotiate the Safe Third Country Agreement when US President Joe Biden visits in March. He said the current deal has failed to curb the disproportionate flow of migrants into Quebec, which Trudeau acknowledged.

First signed in 2002, the Safe Third Country Agreement remains controversial despite some recent tweaks since 2018. 

Under the pact, asylum seekers in Canada or the US must make their claim in the first country they enter. But a loophole in that agreement allows those who enter Canada via an unofficial crossing to remain in the country without the immediate threat of deportation.

Like other border cities, northeast and some southern US states have passed the buck to Windsor, which has provided migrants with temporary accommodation.

As reported by the New York Post, some migrants in New York City received complimentary tickets to Plattsburgh, NY, where they travelled half an hour by shuttle or taxi to cross into Quebec at Roxham Road.

With Ottawa taking upwards of fourteen months to determine if a migrant is a genuine refugee, the Justice Department said provinces are legally obligated to offer them taxpayer-funded services

Quebec has requested that it only take up to 23% of asylum seekers moving forward, as its premier contends his province's "capacity is not unlimited."

The federal government revealed they are transporting migrants entering Quebec into neighbouring provinces at the request of Legault's government. As of June, Ottawa bussed 5,300 migrants out of Quebec to mostly Windsor and Niagara Falls, Ontario. 

The IRCC said about 3,300 migrants seeking asylum in Ontario came through Roxham Road.

A report by Windsor's social policy and planning manager, Stephen Lynn, said 518 claimants stay in hotels across the city, having "arrived between designated ports of entry on the Canada/US land border."

According to Cote, the report said they are separate from permanent residents, government-assisted or privately sponsored refugees, which he cites as one of the core problems.

Daher said the city needs federal money to continue helping asylum seekers.

He clarified: "We are a welcoming community. We are a very diverse community. In no way was it our intention or the recommendation in this report to say, 'we don't want them in our community.' What we're saying is we need support, we need the resources, we need the help."

Costante agreed with Daher's comments and wants to set new Canadians up for success.

"I often joke, what is Canadian? It's often an immigrant with some seniority."

According to IRCC documents, the immigration agency contracted 14 hotels across Canada to house migrants from 2018 to October 2022. They show a surge in illegal crossings, from just 50 requiring hotel accommodations in 2018 to 27,555 inclusive to October 2022. 

About 82% of migrants entering Canada through Roxham Road received accommodation from provincial governments during that period.

The surge occurred following a 2017 tweet by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, wherein he "welcomed" migrants to Canada to counter US President Donald Trump's ban on immigration from several failed states.

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