The federal minister of immigration, Ahmed Hussen, on Monday objected to the new Ontario Tory government’s references to people claiming refugee status as “illegal border crossers.”
A spokesman for Premier Doug Ford used the term last week in a statement sent to the media saying the recent influx of asylum seekers has resulted in a housing crisis in Toronto and “threats to services that Ontario families depend on.”
Hussen, the federal minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, told a news conference Monday he believes Ford’s vocabulary is inaccurate.
“I’m very concerned by Premier Ford and (provincial) minister (Lisa) MacLeod really making statements that are difficult to understand when it comes to how they’re describing asylum seekers. These are people who we have a legal obligation to give a fair hearing to, and so we’re applying Canadian law, we’re applying international law and that requires all levels of government to work together,” said Hussen.
The act of crossing the border at a point other than an official port of entry is illegal. However, according to the federal Customs Act, those seeking asylum in Canada have that right to do so under the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention.
According to federal data, between January and May 2018, the Canada Border Services Agency and Immigration and Refugees and Citizenship Canada have processed more than 20,000 asylum claimants,
There were 3,304 refugee claimants in the Toronto shelter system as of late June. Fifty-four bedroom dormitories at Centennial College in Toronto are being used as temporary homes for 344 asylum seekers and hundreds more are being housed at another student residence. The asylum seekers are expected to be out of the residences by August 9, as the colleges prepare for the return of the student population.
Simon Jefferies, a spokesman for Ford’s office, sent an e-mail on Monday saying, “This mess was created by the federal government, and the federal government should foot 100 per cent of the bills.”
Hussen said he was “perplexed” by the request for more money at a time when the province isn’t co-operating with efforts of sending people to temporary shelters outside of large centres.
He noted that Ottawa has allocated $50-million, $11-million of which is earmarked for Ontario, to assist with temporary housing for the asylum seekers.
“What we’re asking is to relieve the pressure from Toronto and Montreal, we need the provinces to be on board to put together a triage plan that takes asylum seekers away from those major cities,” he said.
Hussen used the phrase “irregular border crossing between ports of entry” to describe the asylum seekers.
“When someone crosses our border, it’s an illegal act. But once they’re on Canadian soil and they claim asylum, the charge of crossing irregularly is stayed pending the determination of their asylum claim,” he said.
But Jefferies maintained that the federal government is the one distorting the English language and wrote, “It is disturbing that the federal government is deliberately confusing legitimate refugees with illegal border crossers. Frankly, they know better.”
Several Ontario service providers who assist refugee claimants also objected to Ford’s language, saying they are fearful about the impact it may have on Ontarians’ opinions towards immigrants.