The federal government spent over $5.7 million over the course of 16 months to ensure that asylum seekers crossing the Canada-U.S. border between legal checkpoints had adequate food, shelter, security and medical care.
The total, which represents spending between January 2017 and April 2018, covers everything from the generators used to heat the tents near the border at Lacolle, Que., to groceries, portable toilets, private security guards and ambulance services.
WATCH: Opposition accuses Prime Minister of pitting one group of asylum seekers against another
It does not include the salaries of the hundreds of government employees (Canada Border Services Agency and RCMP) who have staffed the most popular illegal crossing point in Quebec.
It also does not include any spending by provinces and municipalities, which have helped house the asylum seekers once they enter Canada (Ottawa recently announced $50 million in additional spending to help Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba cope).
Of the overall total of $5.72 million allocated for shelter, security and humanitarian needs, $2.37 million was spent in the first four months of 2018, according to government documents. The spending in 2018 was front-loaded, the government confirmed, as Ottawa awarded contracts early in the year rather than trying to adjust on the fly, as it did the previous year.
Last summer, the Liberals faced a huge influx of asylum seekers from the U.S., many of whom were Haitian nationals relying on incorrect information about the asylum process being circulated on social media.
“Resources were deployed in Lacolle in an appropriate and cost-effective way to manage the situation as it developed,” said Scott Bardsley, spokesperson for the office of Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.
“The listed costs relate primarily to the temporary provision of basic necessities during the screening process.”
A large number of the items listed in a detailed cost-breakdown for 2017 leave the name of the supplier blank. But some of the most common suppliers that were listed included Ultramar, local cleaning companies, water supply companies, and the Lacolle-based Importations Guay, which provides clothing, dry goods, hardware, housewares and groceries.
Around $11,400 was spent on ambulance services for asylum seekers at the border in 2017, and nearly $920,000 on private security services.
The CBSA did not respond to a request for comment regarding how private security was deployed at the Lacolle crossing, which has generally been policed by the RCMP.
“It has now been confirmed that Justin Trudeau would rather spend millions of taxpayer dollars than put solutions on the table,” said Conservative Immigration critic Michelle Rempel in an emailed statement.
“The costs disclosed are only a drop in the bucket of what Canadians can expect to pay for Liberal mismanagement of the immigration file.”
But Conservative suggestions to manage the situation differently, Bardsley said, “have ranged from violating international law to militarizing the border to commandeering a cattle barn.”
“None are serious proposals, and those that could be done unilaterally would either increase costs, put Canadians at risk, or both,” Bardsley added.
Border crossings drop in May
Meanwhile, the government’s chosen approach to the influx — which has involved a limited online advertising campaign and numerous in-person visits to diaspora communities in the United States — seems to have had an effect this spring.
The final number of irregular crossings in May stood at 1,869, down from 2,560 in April. That’s a drop of nearly 27 per cent in a single month.
It’s unclear if that pattern continued into June.
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A large majority of the people crossing in 2018 have been Nigerian nationals who arrived in the United States on visitor visas and then immediately travelled to the border. The U.S. has — at Canada’s request — begun adjusting how it issues those visas, which could be partly responsible for the reduction. Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen also travelled to Nigeria last month to seek the cooperation of local officials and government.
While the vast majority of crossings continue to happen in Quebec, British Columbia has seen a small increase in irregular arrivals this spring: from 31 in April to 53 in May.