Fewer than one per cent of the asylum seekers crossing into Canada illegally have a serious criminal background, according to the Canada Border Services Agency.
Appearing before the House of Commons immigration committee studying the issue today, CBSA associate vice-president Jacques Cloutier said any potential risks are swiftly identified and dealt with.
"We are dealing with situations on site immediately as they present and they do not present on a regular basis," he said. "It is overall, in our estimation, even less than one per cent of cases that are cases dealing with serious criminality and which are resolved at the time, in their entirety."
Liberal ministers taking questions at the committee worked to downplay any associated problems with the surge in asylum seekers and assure the public that federal officials are managing the influx capably.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, responding to questions from Alberta Conservative MP Glen Motz about what the government is doing to restore public confidence, ensure people follow the rules and don't disappear after entering the country, insisted the border is secure.
"The implication in this dump of innuendos that somehow the border is insecure and somehow the safety of the country is being compromised is absolutely wrong," he said.
Officials from various departments, including CBSA and the RCMP, act immediately and effectively to minimize any risks to Canadians, he said.
Degree of difficulty 'relatively small'
"The volume of problems that have to be dealt with at the border, apart from the challenge of volume from time to time, but the actual degree of difficulty with the cases is relatively small overall. The experience has not been one of significant risk to health or safety or the public," Goodale said.
Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said resources were ramped up through redeployment to ensure there were no shortcuts in rigorous screening at "pressure points."
"My impression of the whole situation is that it was an unusual influx, an increase that was not similar to the previous volumes," he said, noting that federal officials work with the provinces to respond in a professional manner.
"It was not a crisis."
Safe Third Country Agreement
The surge in asylum seekers illegally crossing into Canada has been blamed on the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA), which bars entry to Canada from the U.S. at an official border crossing point if the person's claim has already been rejected in the U.S.
Conservatives have been calling on the government to amend the agreement so that it would apply across the entire border, not just at official points.
Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel said today that former immigration minister Jason Kenney had attempted several times to renegotiate the agreement with the Obama administration, but was rebuffed.
She asked Hussen if the Liberal government has made a fresh attempt to renegotiate the pact with the Donald Trump administration. He said it had not.
Abdulahi Hasan Sharif, the 30-year-old suspect who is charged with five counts of attempted murder in the weekend attacks in Edmonton of a police officer and four pedestrians, was ordered deported from the United States in 2011 by a U.S. immigration judge before he crossed at a legal crossing point into Canada and gained refugee status.
It's not clear how he entered Canada legally in 2012, but the STCA includes exceptions for certain individuals, including those who have family members already in the country.
Kenney, who is now in a leadership contest for the United Conservative Party of Alberta, posted a long message on Facebook to address criticism from his rival Brian Jean, who suggested Sharif entered Canada under his watch.
"He never should have been allowed to do so," he said. "As minister of immigration, I took the clear position that there were no reasonable grounds for someone coming from the U.S. to make a refugee claim in Canada. Under international law, refugees in need of protection are supposed to avail themselves of protection in the first country possible. In the case of Sharif, that would have been Mexico or the United States."
In his post, Kenney said when the Chrétien Liberals first negotiated the agreement in 2002, they allowed for a number of "major loopholes," one of which Sharif apparently used to make his refugee claim.
Kenney said that as minister from 2008-13, he repeatedly asked the Obama administration to remove the loopholes.