Community members respond to MacLean’s article

Nick Seebruch
Community members respond to MacLean’s article
Aerial photo of the temporary housing for the asylum seekers at the Nav Centre (Nick Wolochatiuk).

CORNWALL, Ontario – There has been a national and even international spotlight on Cornwall in recent weeks as the Nav Centre has taken up the task to host asylum seekers from Haiti who have fled from the United States.

National magazine MacLean’s wrote a story on Cornwall that was published on their website on Aug. 29 titled “Cornwall’s garlic festival goes on despite anti-migrant sentiment”.The full article can be read here.

The Mayor of Cornwall and Kozroots Community Empowerment Projects (which organizes the Garlic Festival) both feel that the article is a misrepresentation of the situation in Cornwall and at the Nav Centre.

“I’ve never seen an article like it in my life,” said Mayor Leslie O’Shaughnessy.

O’Shaughnessy explained that he spent more than a half hour talking with the reporter from MacLean’s and was disappointed to see that much of what he told her was not represented in the article.

“I mentioned to her that people coming here were vetted with police checks,” he said. “Also that the City of Cornwall had no additional stress on our city resources.”

As for the article’s claim of anti-migrant sentiment, the Mayor feels that this statement was also off base.

“That’s not what I’ve seen and that’s not what I’ve heard,” he said. “Certainly there was some animosity, but it was not widespread. There were people who were simply looking for answers. We held a special meeting of council where we went over all of the details and I did not receive any more questions after that meeting.”

Councillor Bernadette Clement, one of the supporters of the failed motion to provide bus passes to the asylum seekers that was mentioned in the article, also feels that the article omitted the support and good will that Cornwallites have shown in face of this extraordinary situation.

“I was very disappointed by that portrayal because it doesn’t reflect the good will,” she said. “During the whole week last week I couldn’t keep up with all of the offers of support.”

Clement also said the article’s characterization of the bus pass issue was not accurate and feels that the motion failed not because of a desire to withhold access to public transportation to asylum seekers, but because they were already being given bus tickets from the province. She said that if there was any negative reaction from the public in Cornwall that it mostly came from a lack of information and answers to their questions.

“What was missing was the proper flow of information at the end of the day,” she said. “I felt that people were either positive or they were concerned in terms of the availability of information.”

Clement hopes that an after action analysis can be taken of this experience to better prepare the city in the future.

Brenda Norman of Kozroots Community Empowerment Projects (KCEP) said that she and her fellow board members feel that they were misled as to the intention of the MacLean’s article. They wish to make it clear that the Eastern Ontario Garlic Festival and KCEP has always been about community and inclusion and that not a single person or vendor choose to be absent from this year’s event because of the presence of the asylum seekers.

Norman also explained that they always had full faith in the Nav Centre and that the Garlic Festival could not have gone as smoothly without their professionalism.

“Stuff like this is daily life for the Nav Centre,” she said.

The KCEP board is going as far as saying that MacLean’s misrepresented them.

“We consider this to be a very discredited piece of journalism based on all the errors and obvious sensationalism,” said Sylvie Paquette KCEP Vice-President and Communications Officer.

Mayor O’Shaughnessy said that the asylum seekers at the Nav will be gone by the end of this week, but that the tents on the site will remain up at least until the situation is re-evaluated on Oct. 1.

Seaway News reached out to the reporter who wrote the MacLean’s piece, but has not received a response at this time.

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