Vegreville residents urge Justin Trudeau to keep immigration centre open

Schools and small businesses will start to disappear from Vegreville, Alta., if the federal government moves the immigration case processing centre to Edmonton, supporters say. About 20 residents protested outside the Telus World of Science Saturday, looking to catch the attention of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Protesters say the loss of the centre will be devastating to the small town

Vegreville residents protested during Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's visit to the Telus World of Science in Edmonton on Saturday. (Natasha Riebe/CBC)

Schools, restaurants and other small businesses would start to disappear if the federal government moves an immigration centre from Vegreville to Edmonton, supporters of the case processing centre say.

David Sen, a resident of the town some 100 kilometres east of Edmonton, joined about 20 protesters outside the Telus World of Science Saturday looking to catch Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's attention.

"We're hoping that he sees that we're here," Sen told CBC News. "I really hope that they have a heart and look at it and say 'maybe we made a mistake here.'"

David Sen, whose wife works at the case processing centre, says families will have extra expenses if workers have to commute to Edmonton. (CBC)

Trudeau was in Edmonton as part of a quick West Coast tour and took the opportunity to tout his Liberal government's child benefit program — monthly payments made to eligible families.

He also told media he was firm about the decision to relocate the centre — and over 200 jobs with it.

"We are moving forward in a way that works with the community to minimize the impacts of this transition, which we know is difficult."

Trudeau said Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen and Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi were "closely engaged" in the issue. 

Lakeland MP Shannon Stubbs, who represents Vegreville, wants the prime minister to put action into words.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduced himself to "Roger the robot" at the Telus World of Science in Edmonton where protesters were gathered outside. (CBC)

"If he means any of his rhetoric about caring about middle class families and kids and women, he'll recognize that the impact of removing 280 jobs from Vegreville will be devastating to the town, to the region," she said.

The town has posted documents on its website outlining the economic impacts the move would have on the 5,000 residents, including a million dollars in lost annual revenue.

Sen, whose wife is an immigration officer at the centre, said families will take on extra expenses if the centre moves, such as the cost of gas and parking.

Lakeland MP Shannon Stubbs joined the protest Saturday, urging the government to keep the immigration centre open. (CBC)

"Having to have an extra caregiver if you have children because you're not going to be able to run home as quick… if your kid gets sick at school."

"Even sporting events — you're not going to make it in time because lots of these events starts at 5-5:30."

It is estimated that the relocation will cost millions of dollars in leasing and renovation expenses, Stubbs argued. 

The Public Service Alliance of Canada is urging people to sign a petition online. Stubbs wants Premier Rachel Notley to ask the prime minister to reverse the decision.