Doug Ford’s only been in office a matter of days but his refusal to help Ottawa disperse a surge of asylum-claimants arriving from Quebec already has him taking some serious flak.
Much of it comes from the same camp that failed to foresee the problem, helped make it worse, hasn’t come up with a workable solution and still lacks a serious proposal for dealing with the cause. But never mind that. The charges against the new premier are that his reluctance to help ease the pressure on Toronto — where most of the claimants are landing after crossing the U.S. border in Quebec — is mean-spirited, unhelpful and contrary to Canada’s traditionally tolerant approach to refugees and immigrants.
It may indeed be unhelpful: to Ottawa, which has been slow to react and ponderous in approach, and to Toronto, which lacks the space, resources and finances to handle the inflow on its own. But there’s a reason for that, and the other complaints are open to question.
There’s no particular evidence to the charge that it’s mean-spirited. If Ford has dark and dirty thoughts about newcomers to Canada, he keeps it well hidden. He represents a typically diverse area of Toronto — the 2016 census gives Etobicoke North one of the city’s highest concentrations of visible minorities — where his family remains highly popular, to the bewilderment of many in the city’s higher-toned neighbourhoods. The worst that’s been dredged up since he became premier is his use of the term “illegal border crossers” to describe refugee claimants. The Toronto Star calls this “dangerous rhetoric” and quotes a lawyer arguing that the word “illegal” isn’t strictly accurate because their cases haven’t been heard yet.
Well, it’s true their ultimate status hasn’t been ruled on yet. But there’s a sign at the busiest Quebec border site that says: “It is illegal to cross the border here or any place that is not a Port of Entry.” The RCMP, which taken up a semi-permanent presence at the crossing, shouts out warnings to new arrivals that crossing there is illegal and they will be arrested.