City of Cornwall calls for financial help for asylum seekers

CORNWALL – The City of Cornwall has requested financial support from the upper levels of government to deal with the increased pressure on city services from recent asylum claimant arrivals.

“For well over a year, Cornwall has been welcoming asylum claimants and providing a new, safe, beginning for those who need it the most,” said Cornwall mayor Justin Towndale. “The federal government continues to ignore our repeated requests for assistance with the ever growing costs that the City is shouldering.”

In 2022 and 2023, the city says it recorded 1,879 claimant arrivals, which now account for two per cent of the city’s population. This is an amount that doubled in the past 18 months.

The city claims it has a larger per-capita number of asylum seekers than other centres in Ontario, including Toronto.

City CAO Mathieu Fleury said the federal government has made commitments to Toronto, and to the province of Quebec already. Meanwhile Cornwall has not received federal support.

“That’s put a huge strain on our budget, our services, and our staff. It’s time for our fair share,” he said.

The city said in a release that since August 2022, the city’s Ontario Works caseload has increased by as much as 31 per cent in any given month. Cornwall is ineligible to apply for some of the funds larger cities have to meet housing needs.

Another issue impacting Cornwall is the use of hotel space. Currently some hotels in the city are rented on contract to the Federal Government to house asylum seekers, which then limits availablity for the tourist seasons. Cornwall has an accommodation tax on hotel rooms, which it cannot charge on Federal contracted rooms. Revenue from this tax funds tourism marketing and promotion.

In all, the city claims the impact to the municipal budget exceeds $1 million.

Local provincial MPP Nolan Quinn said in a statement that the province has already stepped up to support the city.

“Last year, it was announced that communities across the province received $42 million in additional Canada Ontario Housing Benefit funding for 2023-2024 to help asylum seekers transition into longer-term housing,” said Quinn. “The City of Cornwall received nearly $500,000 in COHB funding.”

He added that from the province’s $4.7 million Homeless Prevention and Indigenous Supportive Housing program, the city received a 20 per cent increase in funding from the previous year.

Officials with the federal Ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship of Canada did not respond to a request for comment, nor did local SDSG Member of Parliament Eric Duncan.

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