Asylum seekers not likely to arrive in Cornwall, fed official says

Louis Dumas, director general of the domestic network for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, answers questions from reporters on Monday, Aug. 13, 2018 after his presentation to Cornwall City Council. Dumas has indicated it's unlikely Cornwall will see asylum claimants at Nav Center despite the government renting over 500 beds at the facility. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

CORNWALL – While proactive plans are in place, a director general with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is doubtful Cornwall will end up seeing any asylum seekers this summer.

The federal government has rented 544 beds in the dorms of Nav Center until the end of the month as part of its “very robust” contingency plan, Louis Dumas told Cornwall City Council Monday night.

But Dumas said, unlike the “amazing spike” of refugee claimants who spilled across the Canada-U.S. border last year, they are seeing about 50-55 people a day this summer.

This year, with nearly 1,400 beds available at the port of entry in Lacolle, Que. and another 600 beds within the Montreal shelter system, Dumas doesn’t anticipate people coming to Cornwall. “I think the equation is in our favour. I think we’ve got to be realistic. We’ve got to look at the equation and it’s definitely in our favour.”

“We have capacity to absorb a high number of asylum seekers. The summer is not over yet, I think we have to recognize that. We want to make sure we have safeguards.” There is also the “possibility” of having tents at Nav Center but “unlikely,” he added.

While there is a fair and due process for those seeking asylum, Dumas stated that “claiming asylum in Canada in not a free ticket to Canada and that’s very important.”

Coun. Bernadette Clement asked about the government’s outreach, particularly to Nigerian communities in the United States, around the country’s “strict process.”

Dumas said some Members of Parliament have been sent to the U.S. to meet with communities. “We wanted to push the agenda even more. We’ve dispatched officers to Lagos, Nigeria…have talked to individuals who were thinking about coming to Canada and claiming refugee status. We’ve been very successful in that space.”

Coun. Andre Rivette also asked about the cost to the health system and the Eastern Ontario Health Unit. “I’d like to confirm that, but I don’t think there would be any cost to the City of Cornwall,” Dumas answered.

As for the security of the Cornwall community and for the asylum seekers, Dumas told Cornwall Newswatch the border crossers are being vetted by RCMP and CBSA before they come to Cornwall. There is also security at Nav Center.

“Not only do we want it to be well managed, but we want to have no compromise on the safety and security and the health aspects of Canadians and that’s very important,” Dumas said.

By the time claimants arrive a Nav Center, they “will be fully processed for eligibility perspective, will have received interim federal health (checks), and will be able to apply for a work permit,” which takes about 25 days.

The presentation and questions from city councillors lasted nearly an hour.