Asylum seekers are mostly families

Nick Seebruch
Asylum seekers are mostly families
Former Cornwall City Councillor and community organizer Chuck Charlebois speaks to the assembled audience at the announcement and sod turning for the new Chuck Charlebois Recreational Trail on Wednesday

CORNWALL, Ontario – At a packed special meeting of Council, municipal, provincial and federal agencies updated Cornwall City Council on the status of asylum seekers at the Nav Centre.

The Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA), Cornwall’s Emergency Management department, the Ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship and the Field Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management all presented information to council.

The Mayor himself admitted that the situation was changing so quickly that even information that had been agreed upon that morning had already changed.

The main detail that council wanted settled was which federal agency was taking the lead on this project. That position has changed several times since the Nav Centre agreed to house the asylum seekers last Tuesday, and as of Monday night, there was no federal organization currently identified as the lead agency.

Council seemed to be in agreement that this detail needed to be settled quickly and the Mayor pressed Louis Dumas, Director General of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship to quickly identify a lead agency, a system to provide information to citizens and a public meeting.

“The message I’m sending from people around this table is to find that lead and get people’s questions answered,” the Mayor said.

What was explained is that there are currently around 300 asylum seekers staying at the Nav Centre. The Nav Centre has offered space for 500 and there are no plans for more beyond that. In order to accommodate the Nav Centre’s other obligations temporary shelters have been setup outside the Nav Centre by the Canadian Forces. They include five to 10 person tents, privacy fences and lighting. Additionally there is a clinic on site managed by the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU) to address any health needs of the asylum seekers.

Emergency Management Coordinator Bradley Nuttley explained that one asylum seeker has already had a baby.

The so-called “tent city” will be a temporary measure however as the Nav Centre is currently experiencing a high capacity, which is expected to ease in the winter and the asylum seekers will be moved inside.

The plan is to move 50 asylum seekers in and move 50 out in a continuous flow.

Dumas said that most of these asylum seekers are crossing in Quebec and are being processed at the Lacolle crossing which is about 50 minutes south of Montreal.

Dumas explained that they are mostly Haitian and that mostly families, including children are being sent to Cornwall. Brad Nuttley estimated that roughly 40 percent of the asylum seekers were children.

Kim Coe-Turner, General Manager of the Nav Centre explained that she is housed right next to the asylum seekers and that they have been perfect guests, which Nuttley verified.

Shawn Hoag, of the CBSA said that all asylum seekers were being processed at the Lacolle Inspection Station and only those who are identified as low risk are being sent to Cornwall.

After they are processed, they are allowed to move freely through Canada until their case is heard before an immigration tribunal. Dumas said that in 2015, nearly 50 percent of Haitian asylum seekers were rejected and deported.

Dumas said that he expected the vast majority will go to Montreal after they are processed to join the large Haitian community that is there.

At least one councillor, Elaine MacDonald, hoped that the asylum seekers would consider staying in Cornwall and making a life here.

“If we could, we should tell them what a fabulous city they are in right now,” she said. “So that they fall in love with this City now. Let’s be welcoming.”

The crowd gathered in Council Chambers responded to Councillor MacDonald’s sentiments with loud cheers.

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