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So close to Canada, but stranded in Maine. After Roxham change, migrants are piling up in this small U.S. city



A fierce wind and cold rain blew through the street in Portland, Maine, where Louisma Dosou, his wife and their two children huddled outside a shelter for families last week.

“They don’t have space for us,” Dosou, 40, said Wednesday morning. The family had been in the small coastal city about a week and still had no place to lay their heads. Every place they tried was full.

“We’ve slept in the street, at the airport,” he said, shaking against the gales coming off the Atlantic. “I am homeless. I don’t have a place to rest with my wife and children. They are sick, they have fevers.”

Dosou’s wife, Rodeline Celestine, covered their daughters, aged four and one-and-a-half, with a thin blanket as they crouched on a stoop behind Dosou. The girls wore socks in their little pink flip flops.


The family were among a group of asylum seekers who had stopped at the Chestnut Street Family Services shelter that morning before trying to find somewhere else to sleep later that night. One woman there was two or three weeks away from giving birth, her husband said.

Dosou and Celestine fled unrest in Haiti, travelling north from Brazil over the past three years in search of a safe new home. Their goal had been to reach Canada. Now, they are among the roughly 1,500 asylum seekers in Portland, population 68,000, where services are buckling under the needs of the growing number of migrants, many of whom had hoped to continue onto Canada.

People form a long line in a parking lot. Red brick buildings are in the background and, farther back, church steeples.
People, including many migrants, attend a food bank at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke, in Portland on May 4. The church is part of a network of organizations providing food and refuge to people hoping to settle in the U.S. or Canada. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

“We just cannot guarantee shelter anymore,” said Kristen Dow, director of health and human services for the city, which is about 230 kilometres southeast of the U.S. border with Quebec. Quebecers vacation at nearby beaches in summer.

Save for some exceptions, asylum seekers can no longer cross into Canada on foot, following changes to the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) with the U.S. earlier this spring.

Speaking in her office behind a waiting room filled with asylum seekers, Dow said the city and local organizations are using nearly every vacant space left to keep people from sleeping in the cold. Still, in recent weeks, Dow knows some have had to anyway.

She recalls a night in February when she got a call at 8:30 p.m. — both the family shelter and an overflow space with floor mats for 36 people were full — and there were 40 people waiting outside in the –10 C weather.

Dow asked if those 40 people could fit inside if workers picked up the mats and put everyone in chairs instead. “I said, ‘Then, let’s do that.’ There were children who were going to school and sleeping in a chair at night. I mean, that’s really heartbreaking to see,” she said.

A woman sits in an office, looking out a window.
Kristen Dow, the city’s director of health and human services, says Portland is sheltering more asylum seekers, per capita, ‘than just about any other city in the country.’ (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

In mid-April when the local basketball team’s season ended, the city set up 300 cots in their stadium, known as the Expo. Within a week it was full.

When CBC News visited the Expo last week, a crowd of about 20 gathered outside to speak with a reporter and photographer, asking when Canada would again let all asylum seekers in — saying their children were showing signs of malnutrition because they were only being fed bread, cakes and expired milk.

Nearly all of them said they had aimed to cross into Canada at Roxham Road, an unofficial border crossing straddling Quebec and upstate New York near Plattsburgh, a city 100 kilometres south of Montreal.

The crossing effectively shut down on March 25, after the STCA renegotiation closed a loophole that had allowed asylum seekers to simply walk across the border before turning themselves over to authorities. Quebec had been pressuring Ottawa to change the STCA, saying its resources were stretched thin after 40,000 people crossed at Roxham Road over the past year.

CBC News has been following the impacts of the closure, which left many asylum seekers stranded in the U.S. — after weeks, months or even years travelling through as many as a dozen countries to find a safe destination.

Portland was a popular stop on the way to Canada for French-speaking asylum seekers because of its small Central African community, the state’s history of refugee resettlement, and word that Mainers were kind and welcoming.

Canada holds appeal to asylum seekers travelling through the U.S. because processing times are shorter – so people who’ve had to leave their families behind in fleeing their countries, they have a greater chance of reuniting sooner with their children.

Since the STCA changes, “we’re not seeing people move on as much,” Dow said.

Alex Mbando, a 41-year-old Angolan father of four, clutched his one-year-old daughter Allegria outside the Expo.

“We heard Canada was looking for immigrants, but we arrive here and now they don’t want immigrants?”

Mufalo Chitam, the executive director of the Maine Immigrant Rights’ Coalition, an umbrella organization of 100 groups, says she was aware of 11 families who had arrived in the previous 24 hours. The coalition was working to have them sent to neighbouring municipalities that recently volunteered to help.

“We’re continuously trying to play catch up,” Chitam said in her office.

Dow and Chitam want to see more help and funding from the federal and state governments, and some support or collaboration from Ottawa.

And with the end of Title 42, the pandemic-era U.S. rule that blocked many migrants from crossing the southern border, even more people are expected to reach northern migrant destinations, including Portland, Chicago and New York.

A woman stands next to a large window, which shows both her reflection and the landscape beyond.
Mufalo Chitam, director of the Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, says advocates are ‘continuously trying to play catch up’ with the needs of the city’s growing migrant population. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Churches have allowed people to sleep inside, squeezing on and in between pews and in basements. Pastors of local African congregations have hosted numerous families in their homes. The soup kitchen at one of the Catholic churches has been serving more than twice as many people as usual, trying to stretch provisions to keep up with demand.

A man named Junior who was having lunch there said he and his wife had to flee Angola in the night, leaving their children with her sister. They had wanted to go to Canada because of the shorter immigration processing times to be reunited with their kids sooner.

The Salvation Army has been sheltering 77 people, or roughly 20 families, on its gymnasium floor.

Mireille, a 39-year-old Congolese woman, has been sleeping there with her 12-year-old son since the winter.

She delayed their trip to the northern border after her 14-year-old nephew was detained at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I regret staying here and I can’t go home because I fled my country and I can’t go back there,” she said. “How can we sleep like this? Every day, you wake up in pain.”

A few people walk in front of a large sports arena.
The Portland Expo Center, where 300 migrants are being housed, seen here on May 4, is part of a network of organizations providing refuge for migrants. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

CBC News agreed not to use her last name because she feared repercussions to her safety or that of family members in Africa.

Exhausted children ran around her, their squeals echoing off the yellow cement walls. Outside, her son played with the other kids in the fenced parking lot. A boy, dribbling a basketball behind his back, said his dad told him that “when we have a house, he’s going to put me in a basketball team.”

A man in a leather jacket and fedora gestures while speaking. In the background, other people are huddled at a table.
Mardochee Mbongi, with the Congolese Community Association of Maine, fled violence in his home country in 2014. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Down the street, the small office of the Congolese Community Association of Maine fills up every day with asylum seekers looking to escape the wind and for assistance with their immigration files.

“At the end of the day, we have tears in our eyes because they can’t sleep here and we know they have nowhere to go,” said Mardochee Mbongi, the association’s president. Mbongi, 38, himself fled persecution in Congo in 2014 where he was a lawyer. He now works as a supervisor at a pharmaceutical manufacturer but took a six-week leave to deal with the migrant situation in Portland.

Similar scenes have been playing out in New York City and Chicago, which declared a state of emergency this week to request assistance from the National Guard to shelter migrants. Some 8,000 asylum seekers are said to be in Chicago, whose population is close to three million.

“Per capita, Portland, Maine, is sheltering more asylum seekers than just about any other city in the country,” Dow said.

The local library has been holding programs a few times a week allowing asylum seekers to print documents and use other services for free.

A crooked residential street, laced with power lines, is seen at twilight.
Street lamps illuminate Chestnut Street, where migrants are housed in a family shelter, in Portland on May 4. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Sarah Skawinski, the library’s director of adult services, says that, while she and her colleagues are overwhelmed, she understands why Canada closed the STCA loophole.

“Sometimes you have to have boundaries to prevent everything from collapsing,” she said.

For Chitam, the head of the coalition, the situation is part of history. She arrived in Maine from Zambia after her husband got a U.S. green card in the early 2000s. She points to previous migration waves to Maine since the 1800s — the Irish, even the French-Canadians seeking temporary work who ended up putting down roots.

“Migration is not new. We just find ourselves in this era where it’s happening on our watch. So what do we do? We’re going to be part of history to respond,” she said.

History, and life, are said to come in circles, similar stories looping and coming back. But scars remain, like scratches on a record. Maxwell Chikuta, an entrepreneur whose many ventures include a small African grocery store, arrived in Portland 22 years ago from Zambia after fleeing civil war in Congo as a boy.

His story is one of success, but when this reporter asks how old he is, Chikuta’s voice catches. The truth is, he’s not exactly sure. His sister died in the war and their birth dates got confused.

He lifts his pant leg, revealing a shiny patch of skin where a stray bullet hit his shin as a child.

He’s not sure if he was eight or nine at the time.

Chikuta’s shop offers asylum seekers a piece of home. They can pick up cheap and filling fare, like corned beef and kwanga, a thick pastry made of cassava flour.

“It’s not just about selling food, it’s about mental health,” he said.

The migrants CBC News met in Portland said they would work to build a life in the U.S., but all said they hope to go to Canada. “If you told me [the border is] open right now, I would go. I’m ready. Will you bring me?” Mbando said.

A spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada says the STCA is now working “as it was originally intended” following the changes in March.  Asylum seekers must file an official refugee claim either online or at a port of entry.

Canada said with the new border deal it would open 15,000 spots for immigrants from the Western Hemisphere, but still hasn’t given additional details.

But that option does not apply to many of those now in Portland.

For the others, it’s not known how long a refugee claim might take.

Over the next couple of days in Portland, there was no more sign of Louisma Dosou and his family.

CBC News was able to reach him later and learned that they had been taken to Sanford, a Maine city between Portland and Boston.

“Ça va bien,” Dosou managed through a poor phone connection, though he said they were still struggling to find food and a place to stay. The next day, he called to say an organization had found them a hotel room.

A man in an office chair leans back, pointing to his shin, where a rolled-up pant leg reveals a bullet wound.
Businessman Maxwell Chikuta points to a bullet wound he got as a child in Congo, during an interview in his office, in Portland on May 3. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)



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More Canadian companies adopt ‘stay interviews’ amid push to retain staff



When Tara Vanderloo’s employees are mulling leaving her enterprise software company, she wants to be one of the first people they tell – and to hear their unvarnished reasons why.

“I know people get called by recruiters, so I’ve asked the question: ‘who are you talking to or what type of organizations?”’ said the chief experience officer at Sensei Labs in Toronto.

“Have you had any thoughts or are you questioning why you want to be here?”


Vanderloo poses the questions in one-on-one meetings she and other staff periodically have with the company’s workforce of roughly 70.

The discussions, which some companies call “stay interviews,” are designed to collect feedback from employees and are aimed at learning what the company can do to retain valued team members and keep them happy.

Some companies have been hosting such meetings for years, but many more adopted the practice over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic as the health crisis caused workers to rethink their careers or seek more flexibility, advancement or support from their employers.

Sensei Labs adopted engagement interviews in late 2021, when companies saw millions of people worldwide leave their jobs in what economists and businesses branded “The Great Resignation.”

“It was substantial, and it was concerning for us because it’s hard to hire great people and we don’t want to lose them, so the first thing we did is we addressed it head on,” recalled Vanderloo.

A companywide meeting was called to discuss the labour market changes afoot, and team leads _ Sensei Labs doesn’t use the term managers _ followed up one-on-one to learn about employee happiness in more detail.

Despite a softening job market and suggestions that negotiating power has tipped back in favour of employers, Sensei Labs has kept up with the practice and a quarterly happiness survey.

The survey asks workers whether the company lives up to its values and “would you recommend Sensei as a place of employment to others?”

Sensei Labs has a near perfect score for people who would recommend it, but staff still have wants, particularly around flexibility.

That’s part of why Sensei Labs has eschewed formal return-to-office requirements. The company has space staff can use but no rules on how often staff must use it for work.

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It also piloted a four-day work week that has been expanded because the happiness survey and chats with staff have shown it’s a hit.

“Their language was like, ‘this has changed my life,”’ said Vanderloo. “If you have kids, it just makes things easier to get all your chores done or doctors’ appointments or focus on your hobbies or whatever you want to do.”

Sensei won’t green light every ask, Vanderloo cautioned.

“It’s not like the sky is the limit,” she said.

“If it’s not something we can implement, we’re very open about it.”

Chief people and culture officer Michelle Brooks has done “engagement interviews” twice with the 200 staff at Toronto cybersecurity firm Security Compass.

They started the interviews a few years ago because they wanted to build on data they were already collecting by measuring engagement, which they thought would help indicate whether people intend to stick around.

The goal isn’t to prevent everyone from leaving but to ensure the company couldn’t have done something simple to prevent the departure of high performers.

“Some level of turnover is healthy,” said Brooks. “We only want them to stay as long as they want to be here and they’ve having their needs met just like in a relationship… We don’t want to lock people in.”

The interviews Brooks has done so far have yielded valuable insights. For example, she learned that some workers aren’t necessarily seeking a promotion. They just want more responsibilities, opportunities to learn and even the ability to go to a conference.

Jenna Hammond, an Ontario woman working for a Norwegian biotech company, used a stay interview, which her company calls a “touchpoint,” to ask for a better employment arrangement.

Hammond was hired as a sole proprietor on a six-month contract with no benefits. She took the job because it was a way back to working after 15 years raising kids.

“I really needed financial stability and financial independence and being on contract just wasn’t ideal,” she said.

When the chief executive of the company asked her what it would take to get her to stay in a touchpoint, she told him and ended up being made a full-time employee with benefits.

Her company repeats these meetings every quarter and does a more fulsome one each January that can last up to 3.5 hours.

In her last meeting, Hammond asked the company to cover cleaning services for her home, which she said would help with work-life balance. They declined but offered her Fridays off this summer to help her juggle responsibilities.

“The worst thing that they were going to say to me was no, but I found that if I didn’t ask, I wouldn’t receive,” she said.

Jennifer Hargreaves, who runs Tellent, an organization that helps women find flexible work opportunities, believes every company should be having open conversations to hear about employee needs on a regular basis, but warned the process can also be a “double-edged sword” for staff.

“The huge benefit to doing it is obviously you can get what you want” she said.

“But there’s this fear that if I ask them and they say no, they’re going to know I’m unhappy, so then I might get punished for it right down the road.”

She encourages employees asked to complete such interviews to step back and think about they want and what is most important to them before coming up with an ask that is focused, specific and realistic.

But even more important to the process, she said, is employers willing to be transparent with staff and make changes based on what they hear.

“Candidates and employees are getting really tired of a lot of talk with no action,” she said.

“People need to see things backed up. If not, they know how much opportunity is out there.”



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Latvians got a surprise day off today. Here’s why



Latvians woke up to go to work on Monday morning, only to find they didn’t have to.

Their parliament had met at midnight to declare a holiday after the national ice hockey team chalked up its best-ever result at the world championship.

Latvia, where hockey is the national sport, was co-hosting the men’s championship with Finland, and the Latvians’ extra-time victory over the U.S. for third place was greeted with wild jubilation. Canada won gold in the tournament and Germany silver.

An airBaltic plane bringing the team home from Finland made a low-altitude fly-past over central Riga on Monday to greet thousands of fans gathered to welcome the squad.


At quarter to midnight on Sunday, sporting red and white national team jerseys, members of parliament convened for a 10-minute session to unanimously declare the holiday.

It was “to strengthen the fact of significant success of Latvian athletes in the social memory of the society,” according to the bill’s sponsors.

The bill was introduced by a smiling member of parliament with her face painted in the colours of the national flag. Another giggled merrily while trying to read out the names of absent parliamentarians, to laughter from many in the hall.

There was an ovation from everyone present after the final vote.

But as dawn broke after the midnight sitting, there was confusion about who was working and who was not.

Court hearings were cancelled and schools and universities were closed, but national exams for high school students went ahead, with staff paid at holiday rates.

Businesses found themselves in some disarray, the president of the Latvian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Aigars Rostovskis, told public broadcaster LSM: “It will be chaos for many.”

Several hospitals chose to stay open to honour doctor’s appointments.



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String of motorcycle deaths in B.C. spurs calls for improved road repairs, safety standards –



Alexis Wiltse’s brother never worried about his sister when she was out on one of her Harley-Davidson motorcycles — he worried about the roads.

Luciano Carnovale says his vibrant, loving sister was a cautious and capable motorcycle driver who took her safety seriously.

“The road conditions, that was my biggest concern always with her,” said Carnovale, a nurse in Kamloops. “Even for me, driving around in my pickup truck gets very bumpy and sketchy as it is.”


Wiltse’s family and motorcyclists are urging caution and calling for better road maintenance after the 38-year-old social worker and two other British Columbia motorcyclists died within three weeks of one another earlier this spring.

On May 6, Wiltse was riding on Shuswap Road near Miner Road on the Tk’emlups reserve, according to RCMP, when her bike hit a “beast of” a pothole. She died of her injuries, while another motorcyclist was hospitalized.

Carnovale says poor conditions on Shuswap Road were well-known by government before Wiltse died. The pothole has been filled since the accident, but road conditions on either side are still poor, he added.

“It’s been a constant nightmare throughout the years and just unmaintained,” said Carnovale. “But it shouldn’t be like that in this day and age.”

A large pothole in a sunny road with moutains and grass nearby.
The pothole on Shuswap Road that Alexis Wiltse’s family says caused her death has been filled since her crash on May 6, 2023. But her family says road conditions remain poor. (Facebook)

The unusually hot weather already this spring has brought an early start to the motorcycle season and its hazards, say ICBC and RCMP.

At least eight motorcyclists have died so far this year, compared to six this time in 2021.

On April 24 of this year, a 27-year-old motorcyclist died after colliding with a tractor trailer in Burnaby, and another in Surrey was killed in a crash with a minivan on May 8.

Surrey has seen six motorcycle fatalities in the last six weeks alone, according to ICBC.

“It’s May, the sun is out, we’ve got a lot more riders on the road, and we really want drivers to be looking twice for motorcycles,” said Karen Klein, ICBC road safety coordinator for Surrey.

“You cannot see motorcycles unless you’re actually looking for them.”

Recent collisions prompted Surrey RCMP and ICBC to team up to offer a free skills course and refresher for motorcyclists on Sunday.

Motorcycles account for about four per cent of ICBC-insured vehicles, but make up about 14 per cent of crash claims, Klein said.

Each year, there are about 2,200 crashes resulting in around 1,500 injuries and 40 deaths, she added.

Klein advised riders to always wear proper protective gear and practice the basics, urging drivers to lookout for motorcycles at every turn.

A woman walking across a gold course smiling.
Wiltse was hard-working and loved her family more than anything, her brother Luciano Carnovale told CBC News. (Facebook)

Death was preventable: brother

Alex Johnson has been a motorcyclist near Kamloops for three years. She says when news of Wiltse’s death broke, her friend called to make sure it hadn’t been her on the bike.

“It’s sad because she was so young and she had a beautiful bike and it’s just sad to see lives lost so young,” said Johnson, 55.

She said the conditions on smaller roads like Shuswap can be brutal, particularly earlier in the season. It’s why she avoids them until later in the season.

“The gravel from the snow spread has not been cleared throughout the winter. Potholes have been created,” said Johnson, who lives in Tappen, about 95 kilometres east of Kamloops. 

“You just have to be very aware of that. People aren’t really out fixing roads, you’re taking your life in your own hands.”

Johnson urged other riders to take their time easing back into the season to warm up even the basic skills they probably haven’t used since last year.

She’s also calling for better road maintenance and higher safety standards for motorcyclists before they get their licenses.

Carnovale says sister’s “senseless” death hurts much more because it could have been prevented.

It shouldn’t “be a life or death scenario depending on which road you turn on,” said Carnovale.

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