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Cornwall, Ont. venue to stop housing migrants as illegal border crossings drop

A Canadian Forces member helps set up an interim lodging site, outside Cornwall's Nav Centre, which is temporarily housing U.S. asylum seekers, on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017.

Justin Tang/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A Cornwall, Ont., conference centre will not be housing any more asylum seekers as of Friday at midnight because the number of people illegally crossing into Quebec from the United States has dropped significantly over the past week.

Cornwall's Nav Centre will no longer be needed to temporarily house asylum seekers since the volume of irregular crossers in Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que., fell to 100 a day over the past week from 200 to 250 earlier this month, a government official said on background. Tents, set up by the Canadian Armed Forces on the conference-centre grounds, were never required but will stay in place in case of another spike in asylum seekers.

The conference centre helped ease the burden on overwhelmed shelters in Quebec, caused by a surge of about 8,000 irregular asylum seekers at the Quebec-U.S. border since June. Two weeks ago, the RCMP said 200 to 250 asylum seekers were illegally crossing into Lacolle from the United States a day. Transport Minister Marc Garneau then announced plans to temporarily house some of the Lacolle crossers in 300 rooms at the Nav Centre.

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Between 80 per cent and 85 per cent of the asylum seekers in Lacolle have been Haitians who fear being deported back to their home country from the United States. The Trump administration is set to end a program in January, 2018, that granted Haitians temporary protected status (TPS) after the massive 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

Over the past few weeks, the Liberal government embarked on an effort to correct "misinformation" that appeared to drive panicked Haitians in the United States to Canada. Meeting with the newly formed federal-provincial task force on irregular migration in Montreal last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shut down any misconceptions that entering Canada illegally is a free ticket into the country.

"Canada is an opening and welcoming society," Mr. Trudeau said on Aug. 20. "But let me be clear. We are also a country of laws. Entering Canada irregularly is not an advantage. There are rigorous immigration and customs rules that will be followed. Make no mistake."

The government dispatched Haitian-Canadian MP Emmanuel Dubourg to Miami last week to counter the misinformation among the Haitian diaspora there. The immigration department and Canadian consulates in the United States have also taken to social media to set the record straight about Canada's immigration policies.

For just over a week now, the number of illegal crossers at Lacolle has fallen to 100 a day, according to the federal government.

"While the number of people coming to seek asylum has somewhat moderated recently, we cannot be complacent. It is far too soon to determine a trend," Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale's office said in a statement.

Army encampments in Lacolle are capable of accommodating 1,200 asylum seekers while they wait for the Canada Border Services Agency to process them; the tents act as temporary shelter from the elements and are not long-term accommodations. The tents in both Lacolle and Cornwall have heaters in place for the approaching colder weather, according to Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen's office, which said the government is also considering a number of contingency plans for winter, should they be required.

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The federal-provincial task force, chaired by Mr. Garneau, will meet for the third time in Ottawa on Friday.

With files from the Canadian Press

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