Markham residents “debate” rumor and refugee crisis in Canada, with punches.

Saturday’s demonstration against illegal border crossings and their effect on suburban Toronto degenerated quickly into violence and anger.

It was a small rally of a few dozen mainly Chinese-Canadian protesters in Markham, a city northeast of Toronto, and hundreds of kilometers from any land border with the United States. Nevertheless, as the demonstration was met by a smaller group of pro-refugee protesters, it became a flash-point in the North American refugee crisis, with Markham’s mayor, Frank Scarpitti, as the unlikely main target.

Video from Ming Pao Daily News

At issue was a rumour that Markham was about to agree to house as many as 5,000 asylum seekers in unused buildings, after Toronto asked for help accommodating an overflow.

“Say NO to Mayor Frank!” read several signs in identical red lettering. Others played off the recent shooting rampage in Toronto: “Do Not Let Tragedy Happen In Markham.”

There is no plan to house refugees in Markham, according to the mayor’s office.

Scarpitti said in a statement that he and other Ontario mayors recently discussed the acute temporary housing shortage in Toronto caused by the increase in asylum seekers crossing from the United States. Toronto had asked for help with that problem, as well as others such as connecting people with potential employers.

“Mayors from across the province offered their support including examining existing capacity within their shelter systems, potential temporary housing sites and facilitating opportunities for seasonal and full-time employment,” the statement read. “Nothing has been finalized as options are very limited regarding any Markham locations being used for temporary housing and there is no update at this time. It is important to note that the majority of asylum seekers are well-educated, employable and have found permanent accommodations within 90 days. There would be no cost to the Markham taxpayer. All costs would be the responsibility of the City of Toronto and other levels of government.”

Police arrived to separate men who had thrown a few punches, and others who seemed about to, including one man who was pushing another as he held up a sign reading “Not In My Back Yard,” according to video captured by Ming Pao Daily News.

Sources: Ming Pao Daily News and National Post