The federal government has spent almost $94-million since the last election booking entire hotels for months to accommodate an influx of asylum seekers entering Canada, according to an access-to-information request.
Since September, 2021, the Immigration Department has paid $93,886,222 for “long leases” with hotels, mostly in Quebec, setting them aside for asylum seekers, including those entering the country through the irregular border crossing at Quebec’s Roxham Road.
The department booked 30 hotels between April and December last year – 10 in Montreal alone, according to a redacted response to the access-to-information request.
The Immigration Department said it wanted to help take pressure off the provinces, even though the housing of asylum seekers is a provincial responsibility.
By block booking hotel rooms, it can ensure there are enough places to house the “rising volume of asylum claimants crossing between the ports of entry, who have no housing options available to them,” said Nancy Caron, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
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She added that most came through the Roxham Road and Lacolle border crossings in Quebec from the United States.
The discovery of the body of Haitian migrant Fritznel Richard near Roxham Road this month reignited a debate in Quebec about the irregular border crossing, about an hour’s drive from Montreal.
A briefing document for the Immigration Department’s deputy minister on irregular migration from July last year said at that time the government had 1,721 rooms leased in 24 hotels in 12 locations across Canada.
It said a big rise in airport arrivals, mainly in Montreal, in June last year meant that the department had to transfer asylum claimants from Quebec to hotels in Ottawa and Niagara Falls. They hired 300 hotel rooms in Niagara Falls in July, to cope with an “accommodation crisis in Quebec.”
“While this option is not cost effective, it is the only immediate solution in this circumstance,” the briefing document said.
Quebec Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus said he and other MPs were concerned not only about the cost of block booking entire hotels, but the fact that many rooms were unoccupied a lot of the time. He said one such hotel, Hotel St-Bernard in Lacolle, seven minutes from the Roxham Road border crossing, is often empty. The hotel declined to comment.
“What we want is to stop the illegal border crossing. If they don’t do anything to stop it, we will need more hotel rooms and the problems will get worse,” he said, adding that it was also having an impact on tourism.
The organizer of an annual kids’ hockey tournament in Montreal – which is holding its 30th anniversary event in May and June – told The Globe that families cannot find rooms in hotels the tournament has booked for decades because so many have been totally reserved.
Dave Harroch, who runs the Montreal Madness hockey tournament, said families may now have to stay far from where the games will be held, on the West Island of Montreal.
“One of the hotels told me they are only 20 per cent occupied,” he said.
Between last April and December, the Immigration Department booked one Montreal hotel with 175 rooms for $7.5-million and another 160-room hotel in the city for $9.7-million.
In Dorval, near Montreal’s international airport, it booked a 112-room hotel for $5.2-million in the same period. And between September and December, a 117-room hotel was leased for $1.3-million.
The Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton, near the airport, is among those reserved for asylum seekers. The hotel declined to comment.
The Comfort Inn Aeroport in Dorval is another. Choice Hotels Canada, which has the Comfort Inn brand within its stable, said it was up to its franchisees to decide whether to lease their hotels to the government.
The access-to-information request shows the Immigration Department had a long-term lease on a 39-room hotel between April and December last year in Lacolle, just minutes from the Roxham Road border crossing, at a cost of $1.7-million. It refused to name the hotel.
The information request shows that in Niagara Falls, the government booked a 150-room hotel between October and December last year and an 85-room hotel between April and December, each at a cost of about $1.6-million.
From July to December last year the Immigration Department spent just over $2-million on a 50-room Ottawa hotel. Between April to October it spent just over $1-million on a 30-room hotel in the capital.
The government has also spent millions reserving entire hotels for asylum seekers who move on to other parts of Canada, including in Winnipeg, Lethbridge, Alta. and Surrey, BC