Haitian asylum seekers crossing Quebec border from U.S. may head to Toronto, lawyer says

An immigration lawyer says as many as one in five Haitian asylum seekers crossing the U.S.-Canada border in Quebec may make their way to Toronto.

City's emergency shelters housing twice as many refugees in 2017 as last year

Many of the asylum seekers crossing the U.S.-Canada border in Quebec are expected to make their way to Toronto and southern Ontario. (Charles Krupa/The Associated Press)

An immigration lawyer says as many as one in five Haitian asylum seekers crossing the U.S.-Canada border in Quebec may make their way to Toronto.

Joel Etienne says while it's an estimate, the city is a big draw for the thousands of migrants leaving the U.S. behind. Officials say upwards of 700 people a day — a large percentage of whom are Haitian —  have been streaming across the border at Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que., before being taken into custody and sent to Montreal, where thousands are now staying at a temporary welcome centre at the Olympic Stadium.  

Toronto, meanwhile, has been dealing with an influx of newcomers all year. The number of refugees using the city's emergency shelter system is now more than double what it was last year, with an average of 1,223 people per night seeking help in July according to city staff.

Etienne says there's a key difference between many of the Haitian asylum seekers arriving now and those fleeing places like Syria. Many, he said, were well-established in American cities, like Miami, and are only leaving because of the U.S. administration's threats to deport them back to Haiti.

A Quebec border crossing has turned into an assembly line for asylum seekers leaving the U.S. for Canada 3:23

"I don't expect that the city is going to have to ... open up a thousand beds and get nervous about delivering emergency resources," he said, adding many have already established connections in the places they're hoping to call home.

For most, Etienne says, legal challenges will be their biggest hurdle.

Coun. Jim Karygiannis travelled to Haiti in the wake of the massive earthquake that hit the island nation in 2010.

While he's concerned about the growing number of refugees in city shelters, he says the new arrivals will benefit Toronto.

"Being a sanctuary city I think that we have to do everything we can to step forward and make sure that these people feel at home," he said.

A Haitian woman hands passports to a RCMP officer at the border crossing near Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que. (Charles Krupa/The Associated Press)

Karygiannis said the city must find sustainable ways to make sure it can look after immigrants arriving here, floating the idea of a call for Torontonians to open their doors to newcomers for a few months at a time, or converting some of the city's abandoned buildings into housing.

"That will certainly ease the situation on the shelters," he said.

About the Author

John Rieti

John Rieti covers city hall and city issues for CBC Toronto. Born and raised in Newfoundland, John has worked in CBC newsrooms across the country in search of great stories. Outside of work, catch him running or cycling around, often armed with a camera, always in search of excellent coffee.