The Canadian government has begun planning for a fresh influx of asylum seekers in St-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que., putting out a call on Monday for the supply of meals and snacks for people crossing irregularly into Canada.
The contract, to be awarded in the coming weeks, is for a minimum of 12 months, and will ensure that asylum seekers who are detained after walking illegally across the border are given food to eat and water or juice to drink as they wait to be processed by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).
Depending on how busy things get at the crossing, the wait can sometimes exceed 24 hours. Last year, a total of 18,836 people were intercepted by the RCMP in the small Quebec town.
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Provided on an as-needed basis, the food will be delivered in recyclable containers and will be handed out by the CBSA officers on site, according to government documents. It must include “varied” juices, milk, egg and chicken sandwiches for lunch, chicken and vegetable sandwiches for dinner, plus granola bars as snack items.
There is no precise dollar amount attached to the contract, as it’s unclear how much food will actually be needed.
Government spending estimates tabled in the House of Commons on Monday also revealed that the immigration department is being granted an extra $10.4 million “to address irregular migration at the Canada-U.S. border and the resulting interim health program pressures.”
A spokesperson for the office of Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Monday that Canada will continue “managing the influx of irregular border crossers at Lacolle in an orderly, professional way.”
“We are committed to protecting the safety of the public and keeping our borders secure,” wrote Scott Bardsley. “At the same time, people seeking asylum must be treated fairly and afforded due process.”
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Providing “basic necessities to those under our care” will not encourage more people to cross, he added.
“The government monitors trends driving asylum claims and there is no evidence that the experience at the border is a significant factor for those who decide to enter Canada irregularly,” Bardsley wrote.
“While we cannot predict what volumes will come next, planning is underway for different contingencies.”
It’s unclear if this contract represents a new approach to feeding asylum seekers at the border, or if it is simply a renewal or replacement for an existing contract. The CBSA had been unable to answer that question as of late Tuesday morning.
At the height of last summer, St-Bernard-de-Lacolle was the site of hundreds of irregular crossings per day. In August alone, over 5,500 people crossed on foot, were intercepted there by the RCMP and then processed.
In December 2017, the last month for which data is available, 1,916 people crossed irregularly into Canada at St-Bernard-de-Lacolle.
By crossing between legal border checkpoints, they avoided being sent back to the United States under the Safe Third Country Agreement and were instead permitted to try to make an asylum claim here.
According to the government, only a fraction of the irregular crossers have actually been given the green light to submit a formal claim. But getting to that decision takes time. Meanwhile, the Liberals have been engaged in targeted campaigns — both online and in diaspora communities — to dispel myths about the ease of coming to Canada.
Over 300,000 people currently living in the United States under temporary protected status will see that status revoked over the next two years, leading to predictions that many may choose to head north rather than return to their home countries.
The rapid influx of so many would-be claimants last year created a significant backlog in the system, and in response, the government decided to issue work permits and allow access to some basic health-care services while people waited for a decision.
Tents and eventually heated trailers were also set up to shelter the arrivals, many of whom came with young children in tow.
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