As Trudeau and Ford trade blows, asylum seekers suffer: advocate

Vulnerable families will end up in the streets if Ottawa and Ontario can't work together to help asylum seekers, says a refugee advocate.

If Ottawa and Ontario can't work together, Francisco Rico-Martinez says there will be 'families on the street'

Ontario Premier Doug Ford greets Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the Ontario Legislature on Thursday. The pair are at odds over how to house refugees claimants in the province. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)
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Vulnerable families will end up on the streets if the federal government and Ontario can't work together to help asylum seekers, says a refugee advocate. 

On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with Ontario Premier Doug Ford for the first time, moments after Ford's government issued a statement demanding the federal government cover "100 per cent" of the costs of dealing with the newcomers.

The next morning, Trudeau appeared on CBC Radio's Metro Morning to defend Canada's track record, saying: "We have to provide due process for people according with Canadian law and values."

But while Trudeau and Ford trade blows, Francisco Rico-Martinez of the FCJ Refugee Centre in Toronto worries about the people caught in the middle.

Here is part of his conversation with As It Happens guest host Robyn Bresnahan.

If the politicians cannot figure out how to co-operate, what are you worried is going to happen to those who are seeking asylum?

Homelessness is my real worry, because we are the last resort for them. The emergency shelters is the only place that they have. Many of them, they don't know anybody here.

The refugee houses, as we speak, are totally full of refugee claimants and families and everything. So the lack of services, the lack of a place to stay, families on the street — that will be a very terrible thing that I think is going to happen.

And why would the provincial government make that kind of difference?

The conversation that [Ontario and the federal government] were having, they were planning to do a triage. And then the families will be offered to go to other cities of Ontario to be housed there. 

Of course, the person or family has to volunteer to do this. But that was the idea — a whole number of people are going to be disseminated and the Ontario government was going to receive resources [to] distribute to the different cities in order that these refugee claimants can be served.

That's something that we are missing now.

People are going to go wherever they can and stay wherever they can, and the lack of co-ordination is going to affect the response. And it's going to affect the the ordinary refugee claimant who is arriving in our country.

Francisco Rico-Martinez of the FCJ Refugee Centre says the province's move the make the federal government foot the full bill for refugees could create a crisis. (CBC)

How dire is the timeline? 

We have people in the city of Toronto that the city have put in the dorms of colleges that have to be out of these colleges on the ninth of August.

The emergency shelters are in 95, 96 per cent capacity now.

The new people coming, if we don't find a place for the ones that we have here, it's going to be a crisis.

We need resources and we need action and we need a plan as soon as possible.

Justin Trudeau discusses his first meeting with Premier Doug Ford on Metro Morning. 10:32

We heard yesterday that Ontario Premier Doug Ford squarely blames Ottawa for what he's calling this "housing crisis," that the influx of refugees have led to this. What did you make of that?

It's sad that they are blaming the refugee claimants for this. It's so sad because the refugee claimants are the last in the line — the most oppressed, the most vulnerable people.

To blame them to make basically a political statement is sad. It's sad for me as a Canadian, because our values, our traditions, the traditions I learned when I came to Canada, was not that one.

If you listen to the Progressive Conservatives, their point of view is: But we can't open our doors to absolutely everyone, no matter what our Canadian values.

I think we have to talk among us, among civil society — the city, the provincial government, the federal government — and then put in a plan and ideas together and move forward.

In my opinion, we have to care for everybody. That's the slogan that I learned in Canada. And that's the one that we have to implement now.

Asylum seekers walk along Roxham Road near Champlain, N.Y., on Aug. 6, 2017, making their way towards the Canada-U.S. border. (Geoff Robins/AFP/Getty Images)

Are you worried about a backlash, a rise in anti-refugee sentiment?

In my office, we've received maybe one or two very aggressive e-mails of people complaining, you know, that we have to act and we have to convince the prime minister to stop these "illegal crossings."

I think we have to blame the right persons ... and the right issues. And the right issues to blame is ... countries closing the border for refugee claimants.

So they are looking to Canada as haven. And I think I feel proud that that these people consider Canada a safe place to be.

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC News. Produced by Kevin Robertson. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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