Posted on June 26, 2018

Toronto Not Equipped to Handle More Waves of Refugee Claimants, Tory Says

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, June 26, 2018

Mayor John Tory says the city is not equipped to handle any more waves of refugee claimants because of “unprecedented pressure” on its shelter system and will not be able to so without immediate provincial and federal financial help.

In a news conference on Tuesday, Tory said the city has gone to “heroic efforts” to house refugee claimants but it can no longer handle the influx on its own.

“Right now, we’re saying, we have a problem and we need help,” Tory told reporters on Tuesday. “We have exhausted our available sites, our resources and our personnel. We need the other levels of government to step up and assist Toronto in a true partnership.”

Tory said officials have discussed the idea of setting up a transition centre in the eastern part of Ontario to manage the flow of refugee claimants. He said a centre would ease the pressure on Toronto and provide a “regional response” to the problem. It could direct claimants to other municipalities, he said.

The mayor said the city needs the federal and provincial governments to respond to the issue more quickly but he is optimistic that they will respond. He added the city needs more than money to deal with the problem.

Tory said city council, in a meeting on Tuesday, will consider a report from the interim city manager that states the city has “no further ability” to accept new waves of refugee claimants into its shelter system.

The interim city manager’s report says: “The City of Toronto’s shelter system cannot manage the pressure any further.”

“The situation is now urgent.” the report says.

On August 9, the mayor says the city will not have the capacity to accommodate 800 refugee claimants already housed temporarily in dormitories at two Toronto colleges because they have to vacate by that date. The number includes more 200 children.

Moving the 800 people would require the city to close several community centres and cancel public programs, which Tory said is “a step the city is not prepared to take.”

Mayor sent urgent letter to Toronto MPs

Tory’s remarks come after the mayor sent an urgent letter to Toronto MPs on Monday about the issue.

In the letter, Tory says the city needs “appropriate support” from the provincial and federal governments to be able to welcome newcomers to Toronto.

“I think we can all agree that having the city scramble to find emergency shelter for each new wave of arrivals is not sustainable, nor is it a desirable state of affairs. What’s needed is proper housing and proper supports, something the city cannot provide on its own,” Tory wrote.

According to the letter, there are more than 3,000 refugee claimants and asylum seekers being housed in Toronto’s shelters and hotels.

Tory notes in the letter that the report repeats a request by the city for the federal and provincial governments to take part in providing housing for refugee claimants.

No details yet on federal funding pledge

The mayor acknowledges in the letter that the federal Liberal government has pledged to provide Ontario with $11 million to ease the crunch from an influx of asylum seekers but says the city is still waiting for information.

“Please note in the report that no details about how or where this funding will be used have been made available,” Tory wrote.

Tory adds that the city is willing to take MPs on visits to its shelters, hotels and dormitories housing refugee claimants if they are interested.

“Our city has a long history of welcoming newcomers and continues to express our support for your government’s policies related to the welcoming of refugee and asylum seekers. But responsibility for these populations does not end at the border, and we simply can no longer contend with their housing needs alone,” Tory wrote.

Report says $64.5M already earmarked

In the report, the interim city manager says council has earmarked more than $64.5 million in its last two operating budgets to meet the needs of refugee claimants.

“As the main destination for immigrants to Canada, Toronto receives on average 50,000 new arrivals annually,” it says.

The report adds that recent public policy and government actions in the U.S., along with events elsewhere in the world, are contributing to a surge in what it call “irregular migration” to Canada.

“Toronto has a long history of supporting and welcoming refugee/asylum claimants including Vietnamese peoples in the 1970s, Somali peoples in the 1980s, and more recently, Syrian refugee/asylum claimants in 2016,” the report says.