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Politics Ottawa taking precautions in case of another surge of asylum seekers

Canadian Forces members put finishing touches on the interim lodging site in Cornwall, Ont., on Aug. 23, 2017.

Justin Tang/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The federal government is taking precautionary measures in case Canada sees another surge of irregular asylum seekers from the United States, including the possible purchase of winterized trailers and a plan to reach out to groups who may flee the U.S. in the coming months.

Public Services and Procurement Canada issued a tender Thursday for winterized trailers in Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que., where thousands of asylum seekers have crossed into Canada at irregular border crossings in recent months. The tender is seeking accommodations for 200 people on behalf of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), which processes asylum seekers when they cross the border.

The Canadian Armed Forces has set up army encampments in the town capable of accommodating 1,200 people while they wait for the CBSA to process them. Transport Minister Marc Garneau said the tents have heaters but the government is considering trailers for the winter months.

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"We are, as a precautionary measure, looking at the possibility of trailers … which have a more robust capability to be able to house people in colder conditions," Mr. Garneau told reporters on Parliament Hill Friday after a meeting with the federal-provincial task force on irregular migration.

The task force, chaired by Mr. Garneau, was formed in August to address the recent increase in asylum seekers from the U.S . Almost 8,000 have irregularly crossed into Quebec – many at Lacolle – since June.

Between 80 and 85 per cent of those in Lacolle are Haitians who fear being deported back to their home country. The Trump administration is set to end a program in January, 2018, that granted Haitians temporary protected status after the massive 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

Rumours on social media, including the application WhatsApp, suggested Canada would give Haitian asylum seekers a free pass into the country. In response, the federal government tried to correct the "misinformation," taking to social media to set the record straight about Canada's immigration policies and dispatching Haitian-Canadian MP Emmanuel Dubourg to Miami last week to dispel the rumours among the Haitian diaspora there.

"I went on a mission to Miami to tell the Haitian community – including in Creole – that there is false information that is circulating, including on social media. I told people not to sell their goods, not to quit their jobs to try and cross the border in an irregular fashion," said Mr. Dubourg, who sits on the task force.

He said his message resonated loudly in the U.S., Canada and Haiti.

After its third meeting Friday, the task force announced plans to team up with Canada's missions in the U.S. and Central America to reach out to other diaspora groups in the coming weeks. U.S. temporary protected status for citizens from nine other countries – El Salvador, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen – is set to expire over the next year. Mr. Garneau's office said the government will determine which communities and regions it will approach in the days to come.

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For the time being, the number of people crossing through irregular routes appears to have dropped. A Cornwall, Ont., conference centre that was temporarily housing people from Lacolle will not be taking any more as of Friday at midnight, as the number of irregular asylum seekers fell to about 100 a day over the past week from 200 to 250 earlier this month. Tents set up on the conference centre grounds were never required but will stay in place in case of another spike.

The task force also announced plans to open another temporary processing facility in Montreal and accelerate the issuance of work permits for asylum seekers.

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