Now or Never

Why one Montrealer is reaching out to help Haitian asylum seekers

Michel Monette and his friends founded the Coalition d'aide aux Refugies à Montreal, and helped 1,200 asylum seekers in their first month. "We gathered together the first weekend of August saying 'What can we do about it?'" he recalled. "And by Monday the centre was open."
Michel Monette gives Now or Never host Ify Chiwetelu a tour of Coalition d'aide aux Refugies à Montreal. (S. Thacker/CBC)

When Michel Monette got an email from a friend with a plea to help Haitian refugees who were streaming into Quebec, he sprang into action.  

"We gathered together the first weekend of August saying 'What can we do about it?'"  he recalled. "And by Monday the centre was open."

That centre is called the Coalition d'aide aux refugies à Montreal.

In the first month they helped 1,200 refugees. On an average day, 30 to 50 people show up at the door, looking for help to find furniture and a place to live, and for help placing their children in schools. 

Eglise Chrétienne du Roi des Rois donated the space.  

This Montreal church is also home to the Coalition d'aide aux refugies. (Supplied by M. Monette)
Everyone does what they can, using the skills that they have.  

Toys are brought in.  Clothes are provided. A lot of the food is donated. In fact, every Monday a Haitian organization drops off Haitian food, like griot (fried pork), plantains and fried chicken.

"Sixty-three percent of the immigrants are Haitian," explained Monette. "So sometimes they just need comfort food."

Coalition d'aide aux refugies à Montreal has its headquarters in the basement of L'Eglise Chrétienne du Roi des Rois. (Supplied by M. Monette)

His number one priority is that asylum seekers feel they are in a safe place.

Monette noted that he's been working with homeless people for a long time and he doesn't see a big difference between their needs and the needs of the asylum seekers.

"They need an ear. They need a hand," he said. "They have a story to tell and they need someone to hear it."

Refugee from Haiti shows wrist band with identification number on it. (Supplied by M. Monette)

"They're not going through all this because 'Oh, let's have fun and do a trip to cross twelve countries illegally to find ourselves somewhere where we may be put to jail.'" he continued. "Why in hell would you do something like that?"

Monette acknowledged some Canadians may feel resentful towards the asylum seekers.

"We may feel like they're foreigners and they might take something that belongs to us. But we're so rich that we can't keep it for us."

For more information on grassroots organizations helping asylum seekers in Montreal, visit Action Réfugiés Montréal or the Canadian Council for Refugees.