Windsor isolation centre for migrant workers in danger of shutting down
WINDSOR, ONT. -- There have been 795 people have been served by the temporary foreign workers’ isolation and recovery centre since it opened in June of last summer.
Over that time, the federal government has forked over $6.3 million — and the city has provided the hotel facility and some staff — but hasn’t seen a bill.
But now — the feds are switching ministries of responsibility from public safety to the public health agency of Canada and is requiring the city to re-apply for funding under a new program called the Safe Voluntary Isolation Site Program.
“The City of Windsor has been forced to consider if we are able to continue with this temporary foreign worker isolation and recovery centre," Mayor Drew Dilkens said in a letter to federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu on Feb. 17.
In his letter, Dilkens said the shift in responsibility from one department to another has resulted in $2 million in costs not being covered.
“The fact that we have to do this and crawl through glass to get to the other side is unconscionable for me,” Dilkens said.
At its peak in the summer, the recovery centre housed 232 recovering workers at one time. It’s a site that even today, the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers support staying open until the population of workers is vaccinated.
But when numbers at the facility declined in the fall — the city was advised by the feds to explore alternate options to the Canadian Red Cross personnel — and find a long-term solution.
Dilkens said additional new criteria from the public health agency would require the centre to shift its mandate and make its services available to the general public.
He noted the city already maintains a second centre for those experiencing homelessness in the region as well as people in vulnerable communities, adding new "complexities" of an additional open site would require further resources.
In a statement to CTV News, a spokesperson for the minister of health said, “Canadian Red Cross personnel are not a requirement for a Safe Voluntary Isolation Site Program application and their continued presence removes resources from our rapid response tools.”
“The government is finding a problem with its own bureaucratic mess,” said Windsor-West MP Brian Masse.
He agrees the taxpayer should not shoulder the burden of costs, and points out another consideration at stake.
“People’s lives are at risk, our economy is at risk and I don’t think we’ve learned anything,” he said.
Irek Kusmierczyk — Liberal MP for Windsor-Tecumseh — said the federal support was always intended to be short-term... and points his finger to the province.
“We’re just waiting for the province to step up and contribute funding to the IRC that really has been funding and driven by a partnership between the federal government and the city to this point. We need the province to join this team,” he said.
Dilkens remains firm that temporary foreign workers — at the centre of this jurisdictional infighting — are a federal responsibility.
“Make sure you’ve got your cheque book ready, sign over the funds that we need in order to operate the facility to protect the workers you’ve provided here,” he said.
The current funding for the isolation and recovery centre will end on March 31, should additional funding not come through, Dilkens said “it will be up to someone else to step in to figure out how to do this.”
- With files from the Canadian Press.