Canada has been very open in its response to the global refugee crisis - literally. We as a country have opened our doors to accept hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers from around the world. But, Canada is now in the midst of what many are calling a full-fledged refugee crisis, especially in Ontario.
In fact, Toronto's mayor John Tory officially declared it as one this summer when he made a public statement in response to the need for refugee housing in the city. As Mayor Tory said at the time, "We need help. We just don't have the resources to do it alone."
The City of Toronto believes in and supports Canada’s moral obligation to help those who need our help. But Canada’s responsibility to these families does not end at the border. pic.twitter.com/3nsJAF7tL0— John Tory (@TorontosMayor) 26 June 2018
To accommodate the large influx of refugees in the city, Toronto opened up school dorms, hotels, and motels across the city and, according to John Tory, used all their available personnel and resources to make it happen. In fact, the city was preparing to spend an estimated $65 million on housing and resources for refugees. But, it still wasn't enough, which is what led to John Tory's desperate plea.
Fortunately for the city, other governments responded. John Tory received support from other Ontario mayors who said they could provide some housing to the thousands of incoming refugees. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also promised Toronto that the federal government would be a good and strong partner in the handling of the crisis.
The federal government also stepped up to foot the bill to house refugees in hotels and motels across the GTA until the end of September. But, the government is still scrambling to find more permanent accommodations for those refugees. The band-aid solutions to the refugee crisis are starting to slip, and the wounds are just getting bigger.
Now, in an effort to buy some time, the government has extended hotel and motel stays for refugees even longer. Immigration Canada has confirmed that they plan to pay for an extra two weeks to a month for refugee hotel stays across the GTA. But, the decision is causing even more problems in some places.
One Toronto hotel made headlines recently as they were getting exceedingly bad reviews. It turns out that the Radisson East in Toronto had been one of the hotels used to house refugees, which is a very noble cause, but guests didn't know that when they booked. When they arrived for their stay, they found a noisy, overcrowded hotel, with poor service quality, and terrible elevator wait times.
Even people in favour of Canada's response to the refugee crisis gave the hotel bad reviews, saying had they known about the overcrowding they would have gone elsewhere. These negative reviews don't speak to the hotel's reputation, but to the fact that we genuinely have a crisis on our hands.
When it comes to refugees, what constitutes a crisis? Well, in Canada, over 34,000 people entered the country through unauthorized points of entry - AKA not at official border crossings - to claim refugee status since 2017. Most of them ended up in Ontario and Quebec. For a lot of refugees, their end goal is to get to Toronto.
With over 34,000 unexpected asylum seekers, the country and especially the local municipalities like Toronto needed to find housing for these families and individuals, fast. So, refugees have been placed in Toronto shelters, hotels, and even housing units throughout the year, which has helped greatly but is still putting a strain on the system.
In other cities like Montreal it has gotten so bad that earlier this year, they declared that the city's shelter system would no longer be accepting asylum seekers. While Toronto hasn't reached that point yet, there is still a big challenge ahead.
Mayor John Tory has said it before - the city can't handle this crisis alone. He continues to call on the federal and provincial governments to come up with a coordinated response. But, they seem to be struggling to come up with a quick solution. The federal government is currently continuing to support temporary housing solutions while looking for something more stable, but the Ontario government has been less involved.
After Doug Ford met with Justin Trudeau earlier this summer, Trudeau revealed that Premier Ford didn't really understand the refugee crisis, and had asked why we couldn't just turn asylum seekers back at the border (our laws make it so anyone making a refugee claim on Canadian soil gets a fair trial). Now, his government is demanding that since the federal government welcomed refugees, they should pay the full costs of it, which they estimate is around $200 million.
With thousands of refugees living in temporary housing and constant uncertainty of what's going to happen next, a more permanent solution from all three levels of government is desperately needed. But, what is very clear is that Ontario's refugee crisis is indeed far from over.