**Toronto Star: Misplaced anger

Graeme Bacque (gbacque@idirect.com)
Thu, 14 Oct 1999 14:15:31 -0400

Toronto Star   -   October 14, 1999


Misplaced anger

Mayor Mel Lastman's frustration over Ottawa's wilful deafness to his calls for
help for the homeless is understandable. His threat to turn away refugees is

Even if Lastman's latest outburst is a bargaining tactic - which we suspect it
is - he went too far.

The mayor of Canada's most diverse and welcoming city cannot fling around
phrases such as: ``Take them elsewhere. They have to start taking them to other
places in Canada because they can't destroy Toronto.''

Lastman is no xenophobe. He is truly proud of the city's vibrant mix of peoples
and cultures.

Nor is he hostile to those who arrive with nothing, seeking asylum. ``We want
refugees coming to Toronto,'' he stressed this week. ``We definitely do.''

But he does have a tendency to lash out recklessly when he is angry.

Certainly there are grounds for anger. He has asked the federal government
repeatedly to reimburse the city for providing shelter, social assistance and
health services to the 8,000 refugee claimants who arrive in this city every
year. They are a federal responsibility.

The city's bill runs to about $20 million a year ($30 million, counting the
immigrants whose sponsors re-nege on their commitments).

And there are hidden costs. The 450 refugee claimants who sleep in the city's
emergency shelters every night, crowd Toronto's homeless people out of the
hostel system.

Immigration Minister Elinor Caplan fell back on an old line, yesterday. ``We're
trying to acquire the data,'' she said, suggesting that Lastman is exaggerating
the extent of the problem. He is not.

The mayor is right to complain loudly on behalf of Toronto ratepayers.

He is right to fire off sharply worded letters to Caplan.

He is right to hold news conferences, badger Liberal MPs and demand more money
from Queen's Park.

But he is wrong to say, even in exasperation, that he will slam the door on
refugees. Toronto is not that kind of city.