Federal government expanding would-be asylum seekers outreach beyond Haitian community

The Liberal government is expanding its outreach efforts in the U.S. beyond the Haitian community to drive home the message that seeking asylum in Canada is not a sure bet.

More than 6,000 people have crossed illegally into Quebec from New York since July

Quebec Minister of Immigration Kathleen Weil, left, looks on as Chair of the Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Irregular Migration Marc Garneau responds to a question during a news conference following a meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Friday. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The Liberal government is thinking about buying trailers to keep asylum seekers currently living in tents at the U.S. border safe from the cold winter.

"These tents do have heaters, but we also have a very, very cold winter in this country and so we are, as a precautionary measure, looking at the possibility of trailers," Transport Minister Marc Garneau said Friday after meeting the federal-provincial task force charged with managing an unprecedented flow of asylum seekers.

"We're just doing our homework so that we are, if necessary, prepared for things that could develop over the coming months."

More than 6,000 people have crossed illegally into Quebec from New York since July, the vast majority of them Haitians.

Many are staying in tents at the border in Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que., as they await processing, but the federal government has issued a tender notice seeking suppliers who would be able to provide winterized trailers — on six weeks' notice — to accommodate 200 people.

Garneau, who is chair of the ad hoc intergovernmental task force on irregular migration, said the federal government is also increasing resources aimed at speeding up the processing, including opening an additional facility in Montreal and looking into ways to help claimants get temporary work permits faster

"We know, from our experience, people want to work, are able to work," said Quebec Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil.

Reaching other groups

Many of the asylum seekers are believed to be coming to Canada because the U.S. government announced it is thinking about lifting the temporary protected status given to Haitian nationals after the deadly 2010 earthquake, meaning thousands of people could be deported.

The Haitians are not the only group dealing with that change in policy, as there is no guarantee the U.S. will renew temporary protected status for citizens from nine other countries that is also set to expire in the coming months.

So, the Liberal government is also expanding its outreach efforts in the U.S. beyond the Haitian community to drive home the message that asylum in Canada is not a sure bet.

"You have to be able to demonstrate that you are in fear of returning to your country of origin, that you are fleeing persecution, war or terror," said Garneau.

Liberal MP Emmanuel Dubourg recently went to Miami to spread this message through the Haitian diaspora there and Garneau said that will be extended into other communities in the U.S.

A senior government source who spoke on the condition of anonymity said details of that expanded effort are in the works, but people originally from El Salvador and Honduras are expected to be among those targeted.

'They can be deported'

Many of the Haitians who decided to cross the border were also motivated by false information circulating on social media and elsewhere since the spring, which claimed that Canada would give them special status because of their temporary protected position in the U.S.

Dubourg said he worked to counter those false claims during his trip to Miami.

"(I) told people not to sell their assets, not to leave their jobs and try to cross the border in an irregular manner," Dubourg said Friday.

"I told them it's not the right thing to do, because Canada has an immigration system, a robust system, and there are consequences for those people. They can be deported or sent back to their country of origin."