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'Unacceptable in a country like Canada,' Trudeau says of asylum-seekers sleeping on Toronto streets


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says it is “unacceptable” that asylum-seekers were forced to camp out on Toronto streets when they were turned away from the city’s overwhelmed shelter system last month and is vowing to be “part of the mix” when it comes to solving the crisis.

Last week, Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow renewed her call for the federal government to come up with long-term solutions for refugees coming to Toronto. She said the $97 million in funding that recently came from Ottawa is not enough to deal with the shelter space shortage.

Speaking to reporters in Hamilton on Monday, Trudeau said the federal government will “continue to work together” with the city in “constructive ways” to address the issue. But he made no specific funding commitments.

“I just had a great meeting with Mayor Chow just a few days ago,” he said.

“It is unacceptable in a country like Canada that vulnerable refugees be having to sleep in the streets, or vulnerable asylum-claimants have to be sleeping in the streets. But the solution on that requires all of us to step up together.”

He said the “large part of responsibility” on the subject falls to municipalities and provinces.

“Yes, the federal government is part of the mix on that and we will be there as we have been with the announcement of $212 million across the country, with almost $100 million directly for the City of Toronto,” Trudeau added.

“We will be there to work and to hear proposals for creative solutions to help solve this.”

He did not directly address a question about Chow’s proposal to create a reception centre at or near Toronto Pearson International Airport where claimants could find assistance when they first land in the country.

Speaking at a news conference at Revivaltime Tabernacle Church last week, Chow said it should not be the responsibility of churches to help find refugees housing and work.

The church, which is located near Dufferin Street and Finch Avenue West, is one of the several groups in the city that have stepped up to house hundreds of refugees who spent weeks outside a shelter intake centre downtown in the heat and rain, waiting for a shelter space to become available.

“This is not a reception centre,” Chow said at the news conference.

“This is a church -- a church where people pray, get married, have funerals.”

In a letter released last week, federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland indicated that Ottawa won't be able to provide Toronto with additional funds to help the city with its $1 billion COVID-19 shortfall, saying that "the ability of the federal government to spend is not infinite."

Chow responded Friday by saying that Ottawa should fulfill its responsibility to refugees and asylum-seekers.

"The City of Toronto is broke. It's not the first time you heard it. They didn't want to deal with that deficit. Fine. That's okay. We'll figure it out," Chow said.

"But we have people daily arriving in this country, and they are arriving at Pearson. They're arriving to Toronto, to the Greater Toronto Area, and we need the federal government to take their responsibility seriously and help us welcome them."

With files from CP24's Bryann Aguilar and Josh Freeman Top Stories

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