The Current

Quebec's resources stretched thin as hundreds arrive at border

Humanitarian workers in Montreal are struggling to keep up with growing numbers of asylum seekers coming to Quebec from the U.S.
Asylum seekers arrive at Montreal's Olympic Stadium, on Wednesday, August 2, 2017. (Ryan Remiorz/CP)

Read Story Transcript

It's hosted the 1976 Summer Games, big league baseball, the Pope, and Pink Floyd.

But this summer, Montreal's Olympic Stadium is being used for something new — as a temporary home for asylum seekers.

The city's usual resources to house and care for migrants has been stretched thin by a recent surge in arrivals.

More than 6,500 people have been processed in the past six months alone.

The most recent influx is driven by Haitians, who are fleeing the United States where their immigration status has been thrown into question by the Trump administration.

Watch as a group of asylum seekers are brought to Montreal's Olympic Stadium

5 years ago
Duration 0:54
Watch as a group of asylum seekers are brought to Montreal's Olympic Stadium

In May, then homeland security secretary John Kelly said that in 2018, Haitians who took refuge in the U.S. after Haiti's 2010 earthquake would likely not receive an extension on their protections from deportation, and should prepare to return home.

David Cochrane, a senior reporter with CBC's parliamentary bureau, tells The Current that in response, the migrants are trying to come Canada, a move that is illegal because of the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement.

To better manage the flow of migrants, the agreement stipulates that refugees must claim asylum in the first country to which they arrive. However, if they are arrested and taken into custody, the border-hoppers can apply for asylum here in Canada.

"If they try to cross from the U.S. into Canada at an official legal port of entry, they will be turned back," says Cochrane.

"Our government considers the United States to be safe. These people coming across, they certainly don't … They consider themselves vulnerable, and they're worried about being deported."

We were told 300 people came across in a single day ... that's an 1000 per cent increase.- David Cochrane, on Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle's border crossing

Cochrane says there are 58,000 people from Haiti living in the United States who are likely going to be affected by the revoked deportation protections. 

"Talking to people working at the border there in Quebec — they're really worried that it's just going to increase even beyond what we've already seen," he tells The Current guest host Laura Lynch

The migrants from Haiti are being drawn to Montreal's well-established Haitian community, arriving in carload after carload at Quebec's Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle border crossing. 

"The numbers have just exploded to the point that this lonely dirt road has become a 24-hour-a-day processing centre for asylum seekers jumping across the border," says Cochrane.

"About six weeks ago, 30 people a day was a busy day [at Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle]. In the 24-hour period we were there, we were told 300 people came across in a single day … It just gives you a sense of the escalation ... that's an 1000 per cent increase."

RCMP officers screen asylum seekers who have crossed the border near Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle. (Lisa Laventure/CBC)

Like Montreal, Cochrane says the facilities of Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle are completely overrun.

Despite the addition of makeshift detention centres, some migrants have been forced to sleep outside RCMP holding stations.

But Cochrane says the migrants and police are working together in relative harmony, with the exception of a few language challenges.

"[The migrants] say they are being treated very well by the people they're interacting with — and quite frankly, in their circumstances, they'd rather be sleeping on a floor in a Canadian detention center than in America."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this post. 

This segment was produced by The Current's Ashley Mak, Julian Uzielli, Pacinthe Mattar and Kristin Nelson.