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Quebec demands $1B from Ottawa to compensate for services for asylum seekers

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Quebec is once again asking the federal government for help to deal with the growing number of asylum seekers in the province.

It says the cost of helping these newcomers over the last three years has exceeded $1 billion, and the number of people needing aid is putting immense pressure on public services.

Provincial ministers are calling on Ottawa to distribute asylum seekers more equitably across the country and reducing the influx of asylum seekers by tightening Canada's visa policy.

They also want the federal government to fully reimburse the province for what they say is $1 billion spent in the past three years settling refugee claimants. 

"Our capacity has reached its limits, and we're at breaking point," argued Quebec Immigration Minister Christine Fréchette. "In recent years, Quebec has done more to welcome asylum seekers than all the provinces combined."

Provincial officials point out that under the Canada-Quebec Accord, the federal government is responsible for managing the movement of asylum seekers to Canada.

By the end of 2023, 55 per cent -- 160,651 out of 289,047 -- of asylum seekers to Canada had settled in Quebec.

The Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) insists this "disproportionate influx" is hurting the province, most notably its education and social assistance programs.

As of January, the government says several school service centres have stated that up to new 5,000 students will need to be enrolled by the end of the school year -- that is, almost 300 more classes, including 88 at the Centre de services scolaire de Montréal (CSSDM).

"Quebec's education system is under pressure because the Trudeau government is unable to manage borders," said Quebec Education Minister Bernard Drainville. "It's not up to us, the Quebec government, or Quebec taxpayers to foot the bill."

As a result, Quebec is, once again, asking Ottawa to reimburse all expenses incurred for welcoming asylum seekers from 2021 to 2023.

The CAQ is also asking the federal government to close any loopholes that could allow criminal groups to infiltrate the country.

The government claims the total cost of helping asylum seekers has risen from $163 million to $370 million, an increase of 127 per cent from 2022 to 2023.

The federal government's recent announcement to set aside $150 million for Quebec's 2023 expenditures is "not enough, and is disrespectful to Quebec's efforts to support the various networks that provide services to asylum seekers," the CAQ notes.

Fréchette notes that for 2023 alone, the cost of welcoming asylum seekers amounted to $576.9 million, in addition to the $470 million already declared for public services provided in 2021 and 2022.

As of Dec. 31, 2023, the Quebec government says 46,555 adult asylum seekers are receiving social assistance, representing 29 per cent of the program's beneficiaries. 

 Asked if he planned to reimburse Quebec and why he hadn't better distributed asylum seekers across Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau avoided answering.

"The federal government has been there with hundreds of millions of dollars. And we're going to continue to work hand in hand with Quebec to make sure we keep moving forward in the right way. The important thing, of course, is to reassure everyone across this country that we have a functional, rigorous immigration system, where the rules are followed. That's why we've taken concrete action with regard to international students. We're also looking at the issue of asylum seekers with other countries," he said in Vancouver on Tuesday.

- With files from The Canadian Press

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