Published On: Tue, Jul 10th, 2018

Doug Ford must end dangerous rhetoric on asylum seekers

The Ford government at Queen’s Park is pouring oil on a brush fire by refusing to cooperate with Ottawa and Toronto in managing the influx of asylum seekers into the city.

If you tried to make a difficult situation worse, you couldn’t do a better job than the Ford team is doing by invoking inflammatory language about “illegal border crossers” and declaring that it won’t even work with the federal government to address this situation.

Premier Doug Ford must reverse his position on not co-operating with Ottawa to help house refugee claimants.
Premier Doug Ford must reverse his position on not co-operating with Ottawa to help house refugee claimants.  (Tijana Martin / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

This is exactly what Toronto doesn’t need. For many weeks, Mayor John Tory has been sounding the alarm about mounting pressures on the city’s shelter system caused by the arrival of asylum seekers crossing the Canada-U.S. border near Montreal.

Many are being directed toward Toronto, and they now occupy some 46 per cent of shelter spaces. About 800 are also being housed at two community colleges, but will have to be moved once students start returning on Aug. 9. The trouble is, the city has nowhere to put them.

Toronto urgently needs help from senior governments.

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It needs money from Ottawa to help cover the $ 65-million bill it will run up by year’s end because of the arrival of the refugee claimants.

And it needs active collaboration from Queen’s Park to make sure asylum seekers don’t all end up in Toronto, but are housed and helped throughout the region.

The federal government is at least promising more money to help cover the costs from a rise in the number of asylum-seekers. It has earmarked $ 11 million for all of Ontario, but it needs to flow through the province to municipalities and so far none has been delivered.

The real problem now is the new Ontario government, which has decided to play politics with the asylum issue instead of doing anything to help manage it.

Ford himself lashed out at the Trudeau government for creating a “mess” out of the issue. And his spokesman blamed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau himself for encouraging “illegal border crossers” to flood into the country when he tweeted out last year that Canada would welcome those “fleeing persecution, terror & war.”

The right wing has blamed the Trudeau tweet for every refugee claimant arriving at Canada’s doors for the past year and a half. It’s a ridiculous assertion that ignores some basic facts — notably the hostile climate for immigrants and asylum seekers fostered by the Trump administration south of the border.

Now Ford & Co. are joining that chorus, and his alarmist rhetoric is feeding into a growing narrative that connects the influx of refugee claimants with a rise in violent crime in Toronto. The Toronto Sun, for example, argued in an editorial that “Canada is easy prey to criminals” because of would-be refugees coming into Canada at unmanned border crossings. This, despite the fact that there is no evidence whatsoever connecting asylum seekers with a rise in crime.

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Ford should reconsider his language before he creates a needless backlash against refugee claimants and immigrants in general. He should heed the words of Trudeau, who warned that “when you play up divisions and fear, you’re playing a very dangerous, short-term game.”

Both senior governments need to accept their responsibilities and act quickly on this issue.

They need to make sure Toronto isn’t left alone to handle the effects of a problem that is completely out of its control and beyond its ability to solve on its own.

The Ford government, in particular, needs to stop playing politics and start being part of the solution.

It should support Toronto’s appeal to Ottawa for financial help, and it should stop the alarmist rhetoric about asylum seekers.

If he continues to go down that dangerous path, Ford risks turning a local problem into a province-wide or even national crisis. That’s the last thing we need.

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TORONTO STAR

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Doug Ford must end dangerous rhetoric on asylum seekers