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Brampton mayor calls for more federal help after asylum seeker found dead in Peel Region

Peel police say man in his 40s found without vital signs on Wednesday
Nov. 17, 2023
Muriel Draaisma and Tyler Cheese

Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown is calling for more federal help to house asylum seekers, saying a man who sought refuge in Peel Region died while sleeping outside this week.

Peel Regional Police said the man in his 40s was found without vital signs in a tent in the area of Dundas Street East and Dixie Road in Mississauga on Wednesday around 7:30 a.m. The coroner has deemed the death not to be suspicious, but a post-mortem has been ordered to determine the exact cause, police said.

Speaking to reporters at a news conference Thursday, Brown said urgent federal funding is needed to prevent the deaths of other asylum seekers in the region with winter around the corner. About 68 per cent of shelter residents in Peel Region, or about 1,200 people, are believed to be asylum seekers according to Peel Region.

"When I got the news of a fatality yesterday, my heart broke," Brown said.

"We've just heard excuses from other levels of government that help is on its way. It's going to come, but it hasn't yet," he said.

"We're about to get into cold weather, and when you have up to 150 people sleeping outdoors, there will be more fatalities. And that blood is on our hands if we don't step up and help."

CBC Toronto has reached out to Immigration. Refugees and Citizenship Canada for comment but has not yet received a response. This story will be updated when a response is received.

Brown, accompanied by a number of community leaders, said the shelter system in Peel Region is beyond its capacity of 500 people, housing nearly 1,500.

The mayor said municipalities cannot run a deficit and that means the pressure on the region's shelter system has now turned the situation into a crisis. The region didn't turn anyone away until this year, he said.

Up to 150 asylum seekers sleep outside in Peel nightly
Up to 150 asylum seekers sleep outside every night in Peel Region, Brown said, adding there is a "pending humanitarian disaster" without more federal help.

"This cannot wait another month. This cannot wait weeks. My worry is that next week, if we don't have help immediately, we're going to see fatalities in our region," Brown said.

Brown said Peel regional officials have had three meetings with Marc Miller, Canada's Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship, but nothing yet has come of the meetings.  He said he got a call from the minister on Thursday to say help is coming.
The mayor said an emergency report will be presented to Peel Regional Council on Nov. 23, outlining past efforts and seeking approval to implement new and immediate solutions.

In a statement on Thursday, Brown said: "We are actively collaborating with all levels of government, community partners, and neighbouring municipalities to secure the essential funding needed for more beds and support services."

'A sad day,' pastor says
Senior Pastor Eddie Jjumba, who volunteers at Dominion Church International in Toronto, said the man who died was from Nigeria.

"It's a sad day. It's a gloomy day and it's a day that we had hoped would never come," he said.

"This is what happens when you delay an essential service. Doesn't matter the time you bring it, it could be too late. When you delay an essential service, people can die. So yes, people will continue to die."

Jjumba said a federal reception centre that would welcome asylum seekers is needed in the Greater Toronto Area.

"I'm not picturing a big luxurious space. I'm picturing a space that is safe enough to keep somebody warm, some food as they process their immigration process," he said.

"Everybody has been saying that, 'Guys, if you don't really change what you're doing, somebody might die.' And they say that a death of one man is a death too many. I would even specifically say, a death of one Black man is a death too many."

City officials in Toronto have been calling for more federal funding to provide housing for asylum seekers since May. In June, the city began referring asylum seekers to federal programs because its shelter system is stretched beyond capacity.

As a result of the city policy, asylum seekers ended up sleeping on city sidewalks outside a homeless support centre in downtown Toronto as the city and federal government went back and forth over shelter funding. Black-led churches stepped up to provide shelter for people sleeping on the ground.

On July 18, the federal government agreed to provide $97 million and the province and city each pledged additional money to free up spaces in the shelter system.

In September, the city requested more funding from the federal government to compensate the churches and community groups housing asylum seekers. And in November, council decided to ask the government to share its plan to reimburse the city for the full cost of supporting refugee claimants in Toronto.

"We need the federal government to step," Mayor Olivia Chow said at the time.