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Ontario’s new Minister of Social Services Todd Smith says Ottawa still owes the province “hundreds of millions of dollars” related to illegal migrants.
Asylum claims have increased significantly since 2017 and have overwhelmed Ontario’s legal system, as well as education and housing services, he said.
“The costs are piling up. There’s been a lack of action from the federal government on this file,” Smith told Global News.
“We know it’s costing, because of the delay in getting refugee claimants through the process is taking up to two years…(and) when it’s taking two years to get through the court process, it’s the provinces bearing most of these costs.”
This is not the first time an Ontario government minister has hammered the point nor the first time that the problem has been acknowledged. Besides provincial services, local food banks and homeless shelters have are strained, and entire hotels have been leased to manage the influx.
Since January 2017, more than 45,000 people have illegally entered Canada at “irregular” crossings. The majority of these migrants have crossed through a path into Québec at a place known as Roxham Road.
A year ago, Smith’s predecessor Lisa Macleod wanted Ottawa to reimburse the province $200 million.
According to Smith, the Queen’s Park’s Public Accounts Committee asked Bonnie Lysyk, the Ontario Auditor General, “to look into the costs associated with these irregular crossings and what the toll will be for the province.”
“It’s in the neighbourhood of hundreds of millions of dollars. We can say that,” Smith said.
“We’re doing everything we can in Ontario to try and accommodate these folks, but the federal government is just dragging out the process,” said Smith, who’s been a Social Services minister for five weeks.
A day after Smith made the remarks, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau showed up at the Parkdale Intercultural Association in Toronto on Monday to deliver a $25.7 million cheque, and blame the province’s conservatives government.
“Conservative politicians like to say they’re for the people but they end up cutting services for the most vulnerable. It’s what they do,” said Trudeau.
Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government cut 30 percent from legal aid funding in its spring budget, with a caveat that available monies for groups under the aid-umbrella not be directed toward immigration or refugee cases.
Ford and his government argue that immigration is a federal responsibility and since Ottawa is unable to staunch the flow of illegal border crossers, it should pick up the tab for corollary costs.
“The border is federal responsibility and there needs to be more order at the border, and it really is lacking right now,” said Smith. “These people crossing the border at Ontario and Québec, are a federal responsibility.”
In May, Canada’s Auditor General Sylvain Ricard reported that if asylum claims remained consistent with recent numbers, processing backlogs at Immigration Canada would hit five years.