August 18, 2019

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Ottawa closes door on Manitoba asylum-seeker stipend

OTTAWA — The federal Liberals have closed the door on a Manitoba community's request for compensation for dealing with border-crossing asylum-seekers, despite a similar payment to Quebec residents.

“Nobody’s looking for any kind of a handout. But if they are budgeting for something and only giving it to one area, I think that’s not correct,” said David Carlson, reeve of the Municipality of Emerson-Franklin.

His rural municipality was the starting point of an influx of asylum-seekers leaving the United States on foot, as U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration tightened refugee rules in late 2016.

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OTTAWA — The federal Liberals have closed the door on a Manitoba community's request for compensation for dealing with border-crossing asylum-seekers, despite a similar payment to Quebec residents.

"Nobody’s looking for any kind of a handout. But if they are budgeting for something and only giving it to one area, I think that’s not correct," said David Carlson, reeve of the Municipality of Emerson-Franklin.

Administering Quebec payments took two months

OTTAWA — It took bureaucrats two months and hundreds of emails to dish out $405,000 in surprise compensation to Quebec residents living near the main entry point for asylum-seekers.

This spring, the Free Press requested messages sent and received by an email account Ottawa set up to administer the payments for residents of Roxham Road and the surrounding area of St-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que.

 

OTTAWA — It took bureaucrats two months and hundreds of emails to dish out $405,000 in surprise compensation to Quebec residents living near the main entry point for asylum-seekers.

This spring, the Free Press requested messages sent and received by an email account Ottawa set up to administer the payments for residents of Roxham Road and the surrounding area of St-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que.

In 437 pages of emails, a dozen public servants arranged cheques that were sent through FedEx, explained that online payments were not possible, and demanded proof recipients lived at their address since April 2017. The process took at least two months to complete.

The documents show that one household offered $10,000 had contested the payment, noting they live on the boundary of those who were instead eligible for $25,000. It is unclear how Ottawa proceeded; residents of that address could not be reached Tuesday.

— Dylan Robertson

His rural municipality was the starting point of an influx of asylum-seekers leaving the United States on foot, as U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration tightened refugee rules in late 2016.

Known as irregular claimants, the crossers arrive in Canada outside legal entry points, but aren’t prosecuted if they report to police officers.

Last November, Ottawa dished out tax-free stipends to Quebecers living near the main point for these crossings. The surprise payments to roughly 45 homes ranged from $2,500 to $25,000 based on proximity, for the "inconvenience" of having more traffic and noise outside their front doors.

It remains unclear who came up with the idea.

The Liberals refused to divulge the total sum of the payments, until a formal request by Conservative MP Ted Falk forced them to produce an estimate of $405,000.

Per month, anywhere from 220 to 24,479 people have crossed into Quebec.

 

The numbers are much lower in Manitoba, where crossings crested in March 2017, when 170 people arrived.

In January and February of this year, only one person arrived each month, while May and June recorded 27 and 26, respectively, all in Emerson-Franklin.

In January, the RM council passed a motion, asking Ottawa why locals aren’t getting the same payment as Quebecers.

The community wrote the issue has become "a permanent problem," straining first responders and volunteers. "These events continue to take place and there is a significant impact on local resources," the letter reads.

Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Bill Blair.

SEAN KILPATRICK / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Bill Blair.

Border Security Minister Bill Blair responded three months later, writing 96 per cent of Canada’s irregular crossers entered near the Quebec town.

"This significant level of activity has not been seen in other communities," reads the May 2 letter, citing "the resulting increased noise levels."

It also noted Ottawa gave Emerson’s fire department $30,000 in March 2017 to deal with the crossings.

Emerson resident Ron Harrison said no one deserved compensation, but he perceives a double standard.

"What annoys me — and annoys anyone I speak to in our town — was the injustice of it. Why would Quebec deserve it more than us?" he said. "We suffered the same problem as they did."

While the RCMP has a detachment in Emerson, staff aren’t always able to respond to calls, with officers sometimes coming from the Morris detachment 25-minutes away.

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

While the RCMP has a detachment in Emerson, staff aren’t always able to respond to calls, with officers sometimes coming from the Morris detachment 25-minutes away.

He recalls driving home at night to see small groups of men wandering his street, and one summer evening, when an asylum-seeker showed up at his backyard bonfire around 1 a.m.

While the RCMP has a detachment in Emerson, Harrison said staff aren’t always able to respond to calls, with officers sometimes coming from the Morris detachment after a 25-minute drive.

However, Carlson said the RCMP have improved their response to the issue, often taking in asylum claimants before they reach the Manitoba community.

The local fire department is occasionally called to assist, but has not made a request for more compensation from Ottawa.

One morning this winter, Marie Becker had a father and daughter show up at her home, knocking on a window. The RCMP arrived within minutes to register the pair.

She feels she doesn’t merit taxpayer money.

"Compensation for what? Someone coming to my house?" Becker said. She lives near a train line, which she said produces far more noise that would never merit payment.

Carlson said most local residents would like the government to find a solution to the issue, and have claimants arrive at a normal border crossing. Yet, it’s unlikely the American government would consent to a change that would stem the flow to Canada.

The reeve also said residents near the border crossing are annoyed by bright lights the Canada Border Services Agency installed on tall poles near the official port of entry. The council raised the issue with the CBSA, but said the lights haven’t been altered.

This spring, the Free Press revealed federal bureaucrats recommended the Liberals not make any public statements nor media releases about the payments, "to minimize possible negative reactions."

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

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