Federal Government Offers $5M for Toronto’s Asylum Seeker Shelter Amid Winter Crisis

Immigration Minister Marc Miller rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill on Sept. 21, 2023. (Patrick Doyle/Canadian Press)

As Toronto braces for winter, the federal government steps up with a $5 million offer to aid the city in sheltering asylum seekers. According to CBC News, this initiative comes in response to Mayor Olivia Chow‘s appeal for emergency shelter space.

Federal Response to a Growing Crisis

Immigration Minister Marc Miller announced on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the government proposes to collaborate with the City of Toronto to repurpose the Better Living Centre at Exhibition Place. “No one should be left outside in dangerously cold weather,” Miller emphasized, underscoring the urgency of the situation.

The move follows Chow’s letter to the federal government, specifically to Defence Minister Bill Blair and Emergency Preparedness Minister Harjit Sajjan, requesting the use of the city’s armouries for this purpose. However, the mayor’s office, through spokesperson Arianne Robinson, deemed the federal offer insufficient, citing the need for additional space to address the crisis.

The Mayor’s Call for Support

Mayor Chow’s plea highlights the dire situation in Toronto, with a 50% increase in refugees utilizing the city’s shelter system over the past six months. As of November 13, 3,900 spaces are occupied by refugees, and an additional 1,212 are supported outside the system. The city estimates it needs $200 million for 2023 and $240 million for 2024 to adequately shelter approximately 4,000 refugees.

Asylum seekers are photographed outside of a shelter intake office at Peter Street and Richmond Street in Toronto, on July 14, 2023. (Alex Lupul/CBC)

Armouries: A Contested Solution

While Mayor Chow sees the city’s armouries as a potential solution, Minister Miller expressed reservations. The armouries, he stated, are “not an ideal place” for asylum seekers. Miller also mentioned that a formal “request for assistance” from the Ontario government is necessary before considering this option.

Exploring Alternatives

Miller highlighted ongoing efforts to find suitable alternatives in the Greater Toronto Area, including Exhibition Place. The government also eyes the possibility of a federal reception centre near Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. This initiative, Miller hopes, will provide a coordinated regional response to the crisis.

The State of the Armouries

The Department of National Defence (DND) noted that the Moss Park Armoury, previously used as a makeshift shelter in 2018, is still under repair due to damages incurred during that period. The city of Toronto had to bear $30,000 for expenses related to cleaning and security. The DND also emphasized that Toronto’s three armouries serve critical roles in military operations and youth cadet programs.