Niagara Falls mayor one of three asking Ottawa for clarity on migrant situation


Published March 8, 2023 at 9:59 am

Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati is asking Ottawa for a concrete plan on the influx of asylum seekers being transferred to the tourist city after entering the country through an unofficial border crossing in Quebec. 

Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati is one of three city leaders asking Ottawa for a concrete plan and some clarity on the influx of asylum seekers being transferred to their communities after entering the country through an unofficial border crossing in Quebec.

Cornwall’s Mayor Justin Towndale and Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens also jumped into the conversation, noting that while they happy doing the “the Canadian thing” and supporting the migrants, they also need clarity on long-term plans.

“We need to know the plan,” Diodati said in an interview. “Don’t just tell us the plan, let’s develop it together.”

The influx of migrants are coming in at Quebec’s Roxham Road border crossing about 50 kilometres south of Montreal. In 2021, 4,246 migrants entered Canada via Roxham Road, with that number jumping to nearly 40,000 last year, the federal government has said.

Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada said the government began transferring asylum claimants to various cities in Ontario in June last year, after Quebec voiced concerns the migrants were placing pressure on publicly funded services and accommodation.

The department said 7,131 people have been transferred to Ontario communities so far – 4,313 to Niagara Falls, 1,396 to Cornwall, 720 to Windsor and 702 to Ottawa.

“IRCC is now in the process of working with other provinces and municipalities to identify new destinations that have the capacity to accommodate asylum seekers,” spokesman Remi Lariviere said, noting that Atlantic provinces have received a few dozen asylum seekers.

Diodati said the federal government initially approached his city last summer and said 87 hotel rooms were needed for asylum seekers.

“They didn’t want this to be public so we thought that’s fine, we’ll do our part. Then it quickly went to 300, then 687, 2,000, and it’s gotten much bigger,” he said.

The city now needs Ottawa to provide guidance on how the community can support the growing number of asylum seekers, Diodati said.

Niagara Falls has also asked Ottawa for $5 million to support local food banks and legal aid groups, the mayor said.

In Cornwall, Towndale is seeking similar support from the federal government, saying his eastern Ontario city has been doing “the Canadian thing” and supporting the migrants but needs clarity on long-term plans.

In Niagara Falls, Diodati said there are concerns about fewer hotel rooms being available for tourists as summer approaches.

“Tourists fan out, they go to the restaurants, the attractions, the golf courses, the wineries,” he said. “There’s a lot of mom-and-pop operators in Niagara Falls that count on that rubber tire and the overnight traffic to visit the city.”

Syed Hussan, the executive director of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, criticized the suggestion that having migrants take up hotel rooms would hit tourism operations and other businesses hard.

“There’s a lot of hysteria that’s been generated,” he said. “Part of this is the fact that these are poor, racialized Black, brown people who are walking in the downtowns of these tourist centres.”

In Windsor, Dilkens said his city has been acting on the Canadian principle “to help people who need help.”

“But at the end of the day, we have to find a pathway to do this in a sensible way, in a smart way,” he said. “The city is feeling the strain.”

Dilkens said, however, that having asylum seekers choose to settle in Windsor would be a benefit for the city.

“We may be able to find people who are skilled and want to work and that would be great for our local economy,” he said.

Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada said Canada is continuing to work with the U.S. on strengthening the Safe Third Country Agreement.

The agreement prevents people who come to Canada from the U.S. via official land border crossings from claiming asylum in Canada. But if asylum seekers cross through unofficial border crossings, such as Roxham Road, they avoid the application of the agreement and can proceed with a claim for asylum.

The Ontario mayors say they are expecting more guidance from the federal government in the coming weeks, after U.S. President Joe Biden makes a visit to Canada this month.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 8, 2023.

Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press

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