The federal government’s plan to deal with a new influx of asylum seekers is to install enough tents at the border to house up to 520 people at a time.
Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) has put out a call for tender for tents that will be set up in St-Bernard-de-Lacolle, the same border crossing that has seen most of the 26,000 illegal crossings over the last 15 months.
The contract says the tents must have “sleeping areas, space for reception, security space and distribution centre.”
They also must be “insulated, ventilated and illuminated modular structures for three-season use,” and the contract stipulates the duration of the services could be up to a period of one year.
Opposition MPs have spent the last week demanding the government present a plan to deal with the expected spike in asylum seekers this summer and were disappointed by the news of another band-aid solution.
“So rather than saying anything with regards to the Safe Third Country agreement or coming up with a plan to deal with this issue, we are now building a refugee camp at the Canada-U.S. border. I’m not sure that any Canadian would think that this is an acceptable response,” said Conservative Immigration Critic Michelle Rempel.
Officials from the public safety minister’s office say the tents are part of the government’s “contingency planning.”
“It is misleading to compare what are temporary accommodations to refugee camps, which are long-term accommodations. Most irregular crossers do not spend long in custody before being released,” said Scott Bardsley spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.
Bardsley noted asylum claimants in Lacolle are generally processed in less than 24 hours, however, he conceded it’s possible processing could take two to three days if there is a large influx, which is why they are looking for tents.
“There is currently limited bed capacity on-site, which is hard for children if they need to remain more than a day,” said Bardsley.
The Conservatives want Canada to apply the Safe Third Country Agreement to the entire border so that most asylum seekers would be turned away by RCMP officers.
Right now, asylum seekers can only be turned away at official ports of entry like an airport or land crossing.
Earlier this week, speaking on background, an official said the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is reviewing a proposal by Canada to amend the Safe Third Country Agreement. However, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen denied there were any formal talks.