Couillard fires back after Ottawa criticizes Quebec's handling of asylum influx

The Quebec premier tore into the federal government this morning in an increasingly tense standoff over who should handle another surge of asylum seekers crossing illegally from the U.S.

Premier accuses federal government of being out of touch with reality

So far this year 6,074 people have entered Quebec from the United States — triple the number of people compared with the same period last year. (Charles Krupa/Associated Press)

The Quebec premier tore into the federal government Wednesday in an increasingly tense standoff over who should handle another surge of asylum seekers crossing illegally from the U.S. 

Immigration ministers for Quebec, Ottawa and Ontario will meet later today in the national capital in an effort to deescalate the situation.

However, only hours before the sides were set to meet, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said a recent letter from federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen demonstrates Ottawa is out of touch with the situation along the U.S. border.

"We are extremely unsatisfied. This response is not acceptable. It shows a complete misunderstanding of the realities on the ground," he said.

Quebec had asked for Ottawa for a plan on how to manage the influx of people and has requested additional funds to cover the $146 million in unprecedented expenses the province paid in 2017, which saw a sharp increase in the number of illegal crossings.

Last year, more than 25,000 asylum seekers crossed into Quebec — 75 per cent of them walked across the border illegally at places like Roxham Road where there is no official checkpoint.

Ottawa's response

In a written response to the Quebec government, Hussen seemed to chastise the province for its current handling of asylum seekers.

"While last summer, Quebec was operating 13 temporary shelters to welcome asylum seekers, I have noticed that only four are currently available,'' he said in his letter, a copy of which was circulated to media outlets.

"This risks creating delays at the border and triggering an unacceptable humanitarian situation. We need to avoid causing undue suffering to families who are seeking protection.''

So far this year 6,074 people have entered the province from the United States — triple the number of people compared with the same period last year.

Opposition politicians in Quebec are hitting Couillard's government hard on the file, accusing the premier of waiting until the issue became a full-blown crisis before taking decisive action.

The leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec, François Legault, called the letter to Ottawa an "amateur" move.

"What we're seeing again is the haphazard management of the Liberal government," Legault said Wednesday.

With files from Angelica Montgomery and The Canadian Press