Trudeau must act before more asylum seekers end up on the street

Kevin Vuong, MP

Read the original special guest column for the National Post here:

Kevin Vuong: Trudeau must act before more asylum seekers end up on the street

While Canada should — and must — welcome those fleeing persecution and violence, we shouldn’t be setting them up for failure

Published Jul 25, 2023

Everyone’s story influences how they look at the world. As the son of refugees, I am no different. When other countries were closing their borders, my parents found refuge in Canada as they fled the Vietnam War. It was more than just opening the doors; Canada embraced them and gave them the support they needed to build a new life.

The crisis we are facing today at 129 Peter St. in Toronto, and in municipalities across Canada, is personal to me. The crisis is also a direct result of the Liberals’ failure to properly manage the immigration system, having starved it of the funding needed to keep up with the demand they created. I look at the people now forced to live on our streets and see in them the same struggles my parents faced leaving everything they knew behind.

I have held daily clinics at 129 Peter St., where asylum seekers have gathered outside a shelter, and heard their stories. One young man is from the Tigray region in Ethiopia, where ethnic conflict and cleansing have been a daily occurrence. His brothers and sister were killed. If he had not left, he would have met the same fate. Many are from Uganda and Kenya, where they have been cracking down on the LGBTQ community. Uganda has passed one of the world’s most radical anti-LGBTQ laws, calling for life imprisonment for anyone convicted of homosexuality, and even the death penalty in some circumstances.

Others are from Nigeria; one young student was about to finish his diploma, but the uncle who was sponsoring his education and rent was kidnapped and beheaded. The student had no choice but to drop out and either seek asylum in Canada or risk the same fate as his uncle upon returning home. This is just a small sample of the people who fled the worst conditions with the hope of finding a safe place to call home, and are now challenged with surviving the elements, threats of violence and racism from those dealing with mental health challenges and navigating others’ attempts to exploit them for personal gain or profit.

Despite the lack of urgency from the federal and municipal governments, this is indeed a human crisis. Senior officials from the federal government, the Province of Ontario, and the City of Toronto met to discuss the matter on July 14. The outcome? Another meeting was scheduled — while hundreds of homeless refugees and asylum seekers are left to sleep on the streets.

The situation is no surprise to those who have been watching it unfold. In fact, I rose in the House of Commons several times over the last few months to respond to the latest budget, warning that the federal government’s cuts would lead to systemic failures. I sounded the alarm that while Toronto received funding for shelter spaces in 2022, it got nothing in 2023 — even as the number of asylum seekers in the city grew.

On July 18, the Liberals announced they would be paying Toronto $97 million to cover the cost of housing refugees. However, this is a band-aid solution for a bullet hole. As Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow noted in a joint statement released in response the next day, we need a long-term solution, not just for Toronto but for the other municipalities facing the same pressures on their social services.

Last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated that, “In 2022, for the fourth year in a row, we were the top country in the world to resettle refugees.… We come together as Canadians to keep our country a welcoming place and help build a safer world for everyone.” Such empty words.

I have met daily with the refugees and asylum seekers and the organizations helping them, but I have not seen any of Toronto’s 24 Liberal MPs, six of whom are cabinet ministers and four of whom are parliamentary secretaries. I support the mayor and premier’s calls for dedicated resources on the ground to help the stranded complete their paperwork, and ensure their applications are processed quickly, so that they can begin to build their lives here.

While Canada should and must welcome those fleeing persecution and violence, we shouldn’t be setting them up for failure. This is not the kind of Canada that my mother and father saw when they, and other Vietnamese boat people, arrived here as refugees.

Unless the Trudeau government finally heeds the warnings that I and others have been raising about their funding cuts, the system will be further starved of crucial resources. Moreover, the cuts amount to a much greater financial and human cost for the country, and inflict damage on how the rest of the world sees Canada.  

When it comes to the Liberal management of this crisis, the best word to describe it is hypocrisy. One can’t claim to have the moral high ground on LGBTQ issues, and then leave LGBTQ people fleeing persecution to sleep on the streets. One cannot declare “Canada is open” over Twitter while starving the system of adequate resources.

Across Canada, from Toronto to Calgary, we are hearing about the implications of the Liberals’ inaction as settlement agencies are forced to lay staff off and reduce services for newcomers. As a result, what we have seen unfolding at 129 Peter St. will become the norm, rather than the exception.  

While the Trudeau government espouses a glossy vision of Canada to the world by virtue signalling through photo-ops and Twitter posts, its members fail to practice what they preach. This leaves non-profits, local organizations and good Samaritans to step up to do what they can, with Ottawa arriving late to the scene. The federal government should be working with municipalities to find alternative shelter spaces. It should also provide better support to service providers and settlement agencies across the country — organizations that are doing what they can to give new Canadians what they need to build new lives in a safe country.  

Inaction is a choice, and this choice has real human consequences.  

National Post

Kevin Vuong is the independent member of Parliament for Spadina—Fort York. The son of refugees, he is the youngest MP of Asian heritage elected to the 44th Parliament. He also serves as a naval reserve officer in the Canadian Armed Forces.