Niagara Falls, Ont., to ask Ottawa about its possible cap on number of hotel rooms for asylum seekers

The mayor of Niagara Falls, Ont., says he's asking the federal government if it will be capping the number of hotel rooms available for asylum seekers, citing the need for rooms as tourism season approaches.

Many of the nearly 3,000 newcomers face language barriers to accessing employment, other supports

 Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls, Ont.
Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati said he is meeting with the federal government Thursday to discuss a possible cap on the amount of hotel rooms to be used to house asylum seekers in the city. (Jeffrey T. Barnes/The Associated Press)

The mayor of Niagara Falls, Ont., says he's asking the federal government if it will be capping the number of hotel rooms available for asylum seekers, citing the need for rooms as tourism season approaches.

Jim Diodati told CBC Hamilton he was expecting to have a call with the deputy minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship on Thursday to discuss how the federal government may proceed. CBC will update the story after they speak.

Niagara Falls is currently using between 1,500 and 2,000 hotel rooms to house asylum-seeking families, according to the mayor. 

Diodati said he was told the number of hotel rooms in use would drop on its own, but said that hasn't happened yet. 

If the cap is put in place, Diodati said, the federal government will likely move asylum seekers to eastern and western provinces in what he called a "Team Canada approach." 

Asylum seekers face barriers to workforce, leaving hotels

CBC News reported in February that 39,000 asylum seekers crossed into Quebec via Roxam Road, south of Montreal, last year. Many asylum seekers in Quebec were bused to Niagara Falls, Windsor and Cornwall in Ontario.

On Monday, Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens announced the federal government said it would cap the number of hotel rooms for asylum seekers there at 500.

Mike Morency, who runs a Windsor-based support program for refugee claimants, said claimants face unique challenges and require additional support to adjust to life in Canada and move on from the rooms. 

"It's like entering into a car race when you haven't even bought your first car yet," he said.

"These people don't even have their refugee claims submitted."

A man in a grey coat and with a serious expression on his face stands outside a building looking directly at the camera.
Niagara Falls, Ont., Mayor Jim Diodati said hotel rooms will be needed for tourists soon and there’s little affordable housing available for migrants. (Brenda Witmer/CBC)

He said many refugee claimants need help submitting paperwork, attending hearings and meetings with legal counsel —which are time consuming. 

In Niagara Falls, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada previously told CBC News that as of February, 2,841 individuals had been transferred to the area, many of whom speak French, Spanish and Haitian Creole.

Diodati said the municipal government is trying to get refugee claimants set up with work permits to help them move on from living in hotels. But, he added, for many a language barrier has impacted skill assessments and work placements.

And even when the families move on from the hotels, Diodati said the housing crisis means there are limited options.

In 2020, the region estimated it would need 20,000 additional affordable housing units by 2041 to meet growing demands, before the influx of asylum seekers came to the region. 

"We need to know the long-term plan for their accommodation because they're supposed to be temporarily in the hotels then move on to some transitional housing rental, and we don't have much," Diodati said. 

Nancy Caron, media relations for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), told CBC Hamilton in an email that the "IRCC is working collaboratively and proactively with local officials and provincial and local stakeholders to develop partnerships to support asylum seekers in new communities."

City expecting 14 million tourists this summer

Using the empty hotel rooms to house asylum seekers made sense "in the shoulder season [the time between off and peak seasons] because a lot of the rooms were empty. But that's changing fast and the tourists are on their way," he said. 

He said the city is anticipating 14 million tourists this season, as the city's tourism industry rebounds from "three years of devastation" from COVID-19. 

"It's our hope that this will be our major recovery year," he said, telling CBC previously that 40,000 people in Niagara Falls depend on tourism to pay the bills. 

"If you don't have the inventory of hotel rooms and people staying overnight, then you don't have the same spend and ripple effect of people buying their dinners at the mom and pop restaurants, the T-shirt places, the wineries, the attractions and all the other [businesses] who are dependent on people staying here overnight."


  • An earlier version of this story said Mayor Jim Diodati planned to ask Ottawa for a cap on the number of hotel rooms for asylum seekers. In fact, the mayor said he'd be asking the federal government if it will be capping the number of hotel rooms available for them.
    Mar 24, 2023 1:10 PM ET


Cara Nickerson is a journalist with the CBC's Ontario local news stations, primarily CBC Hamilton. She previously worked with Hamilton Community News. Cara has a special interest in stories that focus on social issues and community. Cara can be reached at cara.nickerson@cbc.ca.

With files from Mark Gollom