Toronto

Ontario overestimated costs of services to irregular border crossers: auditor

Ontario's auditor general says the province significantly overstated the costs of providing services to asylum seekers coming into Canada from the United States.

Province spent about $81 million, not $200 million, new report says

Bonnie Lysyk says the $200 million estimate given by the governing Progressive Conservatives in 2018 represented the cost of providing services to all refugee claimants, not just so-called irregular border crossers. (Andrea Janus/CBC)

Ontario's auditor general says the province significantly overstated the costs of providing services to asylum seekers coming into Canada from the United States.

In a special report released Wednesday, Bonnie Lysyk said the $200 million estimate given by the governing Progressive Conservatives in 2018 represented the cost of providing services to all refugee claimants, not just so-called irregular border crossers.

Lysyk said the minister of social services at the time, Lisa MacLeod, was given inaccurate information by civil servants.

"The accuracy of information provided by the ministry to the minister for the public announcement was far off the mark," she said.

"Senior government officials need to ensure the accuracy of the information provided to government for public announcements and decision-making," she added.

MacLeod had formally requested $200 million from Ottawa to cover costs she said were incurred by the province and its municipalities as a result of an influx of asylum seekers arriving from the U.S.

According to MacLeod, the money covered:

  • $74 million for temporary housing costs in Toronto alone, as well as $12 million for Ottawa and $3 million for the Red Cross for support services.
  • $90 million in social assistance costs.
  • $20 million for "primary and secondary education spaces."

Lysyk said her office found the Ontario government spent roughly $81 million on services for irregular asylum seekers between April 1, 2017, when the federal government first started tracking their arrival, and July 31, 2018.

The federal government has given $15.6 million in compensation to Toronto, Ottawa and Peel Region, she said.

"In comparison, Quebec incurred $300 million in costs and has been compensated $286 million by the federal government through a separate cost sharing agreement," a statement from the auditor's office released Wednesday said.

Lysyk also said the provincial government should reach out to the federal government for its own compensation agreement on services for all refugee claimants, including illegal border crossers.

"Since the time frame of our audit, additional costs continued to be incurred until the border was closed due to COVID-19," the statement said.

Canada's Safe Third Country agreement with the U.S. says asylum seekers are required to make their claims in the first "safe" country where they arrive, which means those who try to enter Canada at an official land crossing are sent back to make their claim in the U.S.

The agreement does not cover "irregular" asylum seekers — those who come in through unofficial crossings.
The auditor says 36 per cent of refugee claimants in Ontario inrecent years came in at unofficial points. 

The province provides services such as temporary housing, settlement services and language training.

With files from CBC News

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