True North has been told refugee claimants staying at North York’s Radisson Hotel Toronto East  are told to not speak to journalists.

“You know we have a lot of obligations to — before we get into this place they told us not to go for an interview, not talking to anybody,” says a Bangladeshi man staying at the hotel for the past four months after crossing illegally into Canada at Roxham Rd. and filing a refugee claim.   

“They’ve given … all the people staying here, we got letters from them every week … regarding different matters. They also write us saying that we shouldn’t talk to people asking for an interview.”

A security guard at the hotel confirmed that those staying there are advised to not speak to journalists.

“Well it’s the best thing in their interest and the residents’ interests, because a lot of them are scared,” he said.

The hotel was the target of an attempted arson at the beginning of last October.

“You don’t have to talk to him eh… He’s not in your favour, he wants to make you look bad,” the security guard first said after walking off of the Radisson hotel property to tell two refugee claimants speaking to True North that they shouldn’t talk to the news outlet.

“[Hotel management] do have awareness of what is going on, and as soon as someone hits the property … the cops know to be here and they will charge people for trespassing,” he warned.

Last week, Rebel Media journalists had their camera and microphone shoved by a hotel employee while they were filming on the Radisson East’s property.

City of Toronto chief communications officer Brad Ross denies City employees discourage refugee claimants staying in hotels from speaking to media.

“If individuals wish to talk to media, that is entirely up to them. If they choose not to, that is also their choice,” he wrote in an email. “That’s is not something we would ever give advice on.”  

“Hotel, respite or shelter all provide different services — they are not positioned along a continuum from ‘better’ to ‘worse’,” says Ross about how some homeless are prioritized over others to stay in hotels over less hospitable parts of the of shelter system. “The City works with each individual client to identify and respond to their specific needs — including the right facility, e.g. hotels work much better for families who can all live together on the same room, while respite tend to accommodate people with more dynamic schedules, as the curfew requirements are unique to that program.”   

Public relations representatives for the Radisson did not respond to a request for comment on whether hotel management are advising refugee claimants to not speak to media.

Late afternoon last Friday, the hotel parking lot was two-thirds full of cars and many of the rooms on the upper floors of the hotel were lit. Up until late last year the hotel was still allowing regular hotel guests to stay in the upper floors’ rooms.

A man who works nearby the hotel (but asked to not be identified) told True North the hotel parking lot is typically full of cars.

“I still see people going in… Cars, [the hotel parking lot] is always full.”

True North reported last month that the Radisson Hotel Toronto East recently closed to the public for “renovations.”

On January 20, Toronto shelter support spokesperson Greg Seraganian told True North, “We are not aware of any closure to outside guests [at Radisson East], and our spending remains unchanged.”

Last fall the City of Toronto proactively bought three portable respite facilities for the expected increased demand on its shelter system due to the influx of asylum seekers coming to Toronto.

On top of four hotels, an undisclosed amount of motels, respite facilities and homeless shelters like the rundown Seaton House are being used to house Toronto’s homeless and refugee claimants.

The Toronto Sun reported last week the City has an additional $3 million socked away in the 2019 budget to potentially fund yet another facility. Shelter, Support and Housing Administration general manager Paul Raftis warns the shelter system is in “immediate danger of being overwhelmed.”

“The mayor has been advocating for the federal and provincial governments to help the City address the unprecedented demand on our system from refugee claimants and asylum seekers,” says Mayor John Tory’s director of communications Don Peat. “That advocacy has led to $26 million from the federal government to begin to address Toronto’s costs.”

The City estimates the cost of asylum seekers on the shelter system was $65 million over the past three years. This year it’s expected to continue to balloon, and the City is asking for an additional $43 million annually to make up for the added cost of providing refugee claimants shelter going forward.  

Back at the Radisson hotel, another man from East Africa arrived just a few days ago, coming from Montreal by bus after illegally entering Canada at Roxham Road. He told True North “everyone knows” you can come to Canada by illegally entering from the southern border and that he first heard about it on the news back in his home country.

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