08/03/2018 14:27 EDT | Updated 08/03/2018 14:34 EDT

Bill Blair Delivers $11M To Toronto To Help With Asylum Seekers, Denies 'Spat' With Ontario

Toronto Mayor John Tory says new federal funds are an "important step."

Chris Young/CP
Bill Blair, federal minister of border security and organized crime reduction, and Mayor John Tory attend a press conference in Toronto on Aug. 3, 2018.

TORONTO — The federal government has made good on a promise to deliver $11 million to help the City of Toronto defray some of the costs associated with an influx of asylum seekers in recent months.

Border Security Minister Bill Blair made the announcement on Friday after a meeting with Mayor John Tory, and said more financial support may be provided as talks with the city continue.

"These initial funds have been allocated to help alleviate the immediate pressures being experienced by the City of Toronto," Blair said. "We continue to work toward longer-term solutions."

Some of the money will be used to relocate hundreds of irregular border crossers who have spent the past few months housed in dormitories belonging to two major Toronto-area colleges, Blair said. The dorms at Humber and Centennial colleges will be empty before a previously announced deadline of Aug. 9, he added.

"Due to the ongoing pressures Toronto is facing with the ongoing arrival of asylum seekers within its shelter system, our government has recently made arrangements to book hotel and motel rooms within the Greater Toronto Area," Blair said. "This will allow city officials to move asylum seekers out of the college dormitories ... in order to make way for returning students."

More than 400 new arrivals were living in the dorms at one time, but Blair said that number has dropped considerably in recent days. He said officials reported 272 people still in residence as of Friday morning.

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The $11 million earmarked for Toronto was announced in June as part of a $50-million commitment to Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba to help cover some of the costs they have borne as a result of the ongoing spike in asylum seekers crossing the Canada-U.S. border irregularly.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said in June that the money was meant as a first instalment to the provinces. In total, $36 million was promised to Quebec, $11 million to Ontario and $3 million to Manitoba.

"The federal government announcement today is an important step and helps us address the immediate pressure we faced in housing those living in the two Toronto dormitories," said Tory. "The minister has also indicated further discussions that will be held on additional funding to come our way."

Blair said Toronto will cover costs on transportation and logistics related to the asylum seekers.

Last week, the Ontario provincial government requested $200 million from the federal government to pay the costs of asylum seekers living in Ontario, including other areas in the province such as Ottawa.

'I'm very interested in working with province'

Lisa MacLeod, Ontario's minister for children, community and social services, sent a letter demanding federal funding after she clashed with the Liberal government over its handling of the asylum-seeker issue. Hussen and Blair were copied on the letter from MacLeod, who is also responsible for immigration.

Blair said on Friday that the federal government is "not having a spat" with the province.

"I'm very interested in working with the province," said Blair, who added that there are "ongoing discussions" with MacLeod regarding the province's $200 million request.

"I look forward to hearing more particulars on what those expenses might be," he said. "But we are very grateful with the leadership that we have seen from the municipalities."

Last month Tory convened an urgent call with mayors from other large cities in Ontario, asking them to identify any sites or facilities that could temporarily house refugees and asylum seekers. About 500 asylum seekers are going to hotels in Mississauga, Etobicoke and Markham.

Triage system

Blair said the government will continue to monitor the situation in Toronto and the other municipalities and will re-evaluate the housing issue on Sept. 1.

The minister said he is also working with Ontario municipalities to finalize details on a triage system that would manage the flow of asylum seekers and ensure those municipalities have the capacity and resources to house them.

Ottawa announced the triage system in April following concerns raised by the province of Quebec over an influx of asylum seekers flooding temporary housing facilities in Montreal. The system would redirect irregular border crossers from crowded shelters in both Montreal and Toronto.