December 16, 2019

Winnipeg
-23° C, Clear

Full Forecast

Government wanted to limit payment details to Quebec border homes: 'secret' doc

Hey there, time traveller!
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.

Roxham Road in Quebec, where dozens of security personnel were stationed during the influx of irregular border crossers.

Roxham Road in Quebec, where dozens of security personnel were stationed during the influx of irregular border crossers.

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.

Download Documents on asylum-seeker 'inconvenience'payments to Quebec residents

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."

Bill Blair, Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction

MIKAELA MACKENZIE/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Bill Blair, Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction

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.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.