Questions are being raised about the living conditions of “irregular asylum seekers” currently living in downtown Montreal. The Quebec government is keeping a tight lid on a matter of public interest. The Quebec government's ministries, its health agencies, and its mandated third-party organizations are all denying journalists access to migrant temporary housing. Reporters Without Borders and la Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec expressed their concerns about this unacceptable situation. Some Canadians wonder what’s going on at Royal Victoria hospital - shut down in 2015 after 122 years of service. The prime real estate could have sold at profit for redevelopment. Before the sale process could begin, Trudeau tweeted his invitation, and the migrant crisis began. A security guard keeps watch behind the wrought iron fence that separates the “Royal-Vic” from prying eyes. Few people actually know the shut-down hospital serves as temporary housing for almost two hundred migrants.
Journalists ask about migrant living conditions
Are the residents well fed? How do they sleep? Journalists are raising these questions following complaints from some migrants about poor living conditions. The Red Cross provided approximately 500 stretchers. People sleep on stretchers, for months on end. Furthermore, the building appears to be in poor shape despite renovations. This summer, I reported on an official government notice concerning the high risk of outbreak in Montreal due to illegal migrants (in French). Here's a fair question: do the migrants have access to proper medical care? They enter and leave the premises as they please... and already mix with the general population. Are they vaccinated? Canadians have a right to know whether the State is allocating public funds judiciously. The migrants' health ultimately affects ours.
Government body CIUSSS mandates YMCA with big budgets
The Integrated University Health and Social Services Centres (CIUSSS du Centre-Ouest-de-l'Île-de-Montréal) mandated the YMCA of Quebec to manage the facility. YMCA receives $44 per adult and $24 per child to house and feed the residents, per day. That amounts to $136 for every couple with two children, each day. Multiply that amount by thirty days and the YMCA receives $4,080 monthly per family of four. In other words, a budget of $48,960 per year, just for food and housing. According to Statistics Canada, the Quebec median income for a family of four before taxes is $59,822. Remove income taxes and under $43,000 is left. That's six thousand dollars less than the asylum seeker's budget for housing and food. One would expect the Royal Vic's 193 residents eat and sleep like kings and queens.
Refusal, rejection, access denied
Journalists from La Presse wanted to verify the reports of the poor living conditions. They started with the organization managing the migrant housing. The YMCA refused. Shocked that the government-mandated organization denies journalists access to the facilities, they then asked permission from the CIUSSS. That's a government-funded healthcare provider, and it rejected the requests. Emmanuelle Paciullo, media relations for the CIUSSS explains:
Access to temporary accommodation sites is authorized only for the clientele and the employees who work there at all times. This decision is explained for reasons of confidentiality and the fact that these sites are living environments.
La Presse pledged to visit the installations only and would obtain consent prior to interviewing residents on site if any. In vain. Why not go all the way to the top, then? Further requests were denied by the Ministry of Immigration, Diversity, and Inclusion, as well as by the Ministry of Health and Social Services. Access denied by not one, but two ministries. The government is stonewalling journalists at every turn. After repeated requests, Mrs. Paciullo provides the same laconic answer:
The confidentiality and security of our clientele are essential.
An unacceptable situation
It's a question of accountability. Normally, when the government spends money, journalists ask questions, and the government answers them. The current blockade against journalists and complete lack of transparency is intolerable. Indeed, the refusal to provide access troubles the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec. Its President Stéphane Giroux has stated :
This is unacceptable. These installations are publicly funded and citizens have a right to know about the conditions in which the asylum seekers are living. Journalists get access to refugee camps in dictatorships, and here we say, “No”? This is nonsense.
Margaux Ewen, Executive Director of Reporters Without Borders, also believes the government’s position is not justified.
We are concerned that journalists cannot see the asylum seekers’ facilities, given their complaints. As a public service, the press must be able to exercise its profession. It must be allowed to cover the issue of asylum seekers and refugees.
Do you believe journalists should be allowed access to migrant asylum seekers' temporary housing? Please comment below and share. With information obtained from La Presse.
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