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This article was published 27/5/2019 (202 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — Federal bureaucrats tried to stall the release of details surrounding the Liberals’ surprise payment to Quebecers living near the main entry point for irregular asylum claimants, according to an internal document marked "secret."
Last November, Ottawa dished out tax-free stipends ranging from $2,500 to $25,000 (based on proximity) to roughly 45 homes, for the "inconvenience" of having more traffic and noise outside their front doors.
No similar payment was made to Manitobans.
Border Security Minister Bill Blair contrasted the thousands of people entering along Roxham Road in Quebec, where dozens of security personnel were stationed, to the more spread-out crossings near Emerson.
In a document marked "secret," obtained through a freedom-of-information request, public servants recommended the Liberals not make any public statements nor media releases about the payments, "to minimize possible negative reactions," as well as risks.
The payments came to light when residents contacted local media. At time, the Liberals refused to provide a ballpark figure of how much these expenses would cost, until they were finalized.
In March, facing a formal request by Conservative MP Ted Falk, the Liberals produced an estimate of $405,000 in compensation, out of an original budget of $485,000.
Previously, Falk argued residents of his Provencher riding also deserved cash, after having strangers knock at the doors in the middle of the night.
Public servants estimated the cost of the Quebec payments in a July 20 memorandum, though the number is redacted, as are the "considerations and risks" of the compensation, because they were used to advise the federal cabinet.
Public Safety Canada wrote Monday that Ottawa did not communicate about the payments outside the households involved because "concerns about privacy were paramount" in discussions with those residents, according to spokeswoman Zarah Malik.
In the documents, bureaucrats noted ministers can make ex-gratia payments "only in extraordinary circumstances" and suggested stressing the "benevolent nature of this payment," as well as the fact Ottawa has given out "lesser payments for more extreme circumstances."
In letters to the beneficiaries, Public Safety Canada told Quebec households it had "an obligation to disclose the payments" in regular filings, but told the residents it would "seek an exemption to try and limit the scope of the information published," because some of the residents raised "concerns for privacy."
To get the compensation, residents had to sign a release saying they "remise, release and forever discharge" Ottawa "from all actions, claims or demands." The release still allows them to sue "for personal injury or property damage."
Blair told the Free Press last year no one had threatened to sue Ottawa, and the risk of lawsuits wasn’t part of the rationale for the payments. He rejected Falk’s contention the Liberals made the payment to Quebecers and not Manitobans in order to shore up their electoral base.
Records show the idea of making payments came about because "some residents are seeking financial support." The first email on the topic appeared July 13, prompting a series of meetings that culminated in the letters being sent out Nov. 22.