Conservatives demand Liberals act to halt illegal border crossings
Immigration minister tells CBC efforts underway to stem the flow of Nigerian migrants
Conservative MPs are urging the federal government to take "immediate action" to halt illegal border crossings, describing the flow of asylum seekers from the United States as a "crisis without a plan."
Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel tabled a motion in the House of Commons on Tuesday calling on the Trudeau government to come up with a strategy by May 11 to deal with the spike in migrants crossing the border between legal checkpoints.
Rempel said she worries that the absence of a more forceful response from the federal government to illegal border crossings could erode Canadians' support for immigration.
"You're not going to get any argument from Canadians that we support immigration in this country," Rempel told reporters on Tuesday.
"My concern is that if the government does not take steps to rectify [its] failure to manage our borders, we are going to rapidly see Canadians lose that social licence for immigration, because there will be a lack of faith in the ability of the government to ensure planned and orderly migration."
'Crisis without a plan'
In 2017, RCMP officers apprehended 20,593 asylum seekers between official border checkpoints. More than 90 per cent of those crossings happened in Quebec.
This year, the number of people crossing illegally into the province between January and March more than tripled compared to the same period last year, with 4,828 people intercepted by the RCMP in 2018 compared to 1,351 in 2017.
Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen told CBC News Network's Power & Politics Tuesday that efforts to stem the flow of Nigerian asylum seekers to Canada are already under way.
That effort has involved meeting with U.S. officials and telling them that a number of Nigerians have been applying for U.S. visitor visas with the intention of travelling through that country to claim asylum in Canada.
"We've dispatched a number of senior officials to Nigeria to deal with the United States mission there to again compare notes and see how we can share best practices ... in terms of dealing with our common interests, securing our common border," Hussen told host Vassy Kapelos.
Those interventions, the minister explained, have resulted in the U.S. cutting the number of tourist visas it offers to Nigerians by 10 per cent.
Conservatives say they have been calling on the Liberals to respond to the spike in crossings for more than 18 months.
"They knew that this was going to happen and they have done absolutely nothing to restore order and to manage our borders," Rempel said.
"This is the second summer that we're going into a potential immigration crisis without a plan."
Earlier this month, Quebec Immigration Minister David Heurtel said up to 400 people could be crossing into the province daily by this summer.
Quebec has asked the federal government for help, warning that its education and social service agencies won't be able to cope with the influx.
Differing views on solutions
As part of their motion, the Conservatives want to see more federal government support for the agencies that police Canada's border with the United States, including the Canada Border Services Agency and the RCMP.
Speaking to reporters in French, Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus told reporters that CBSA officers were being asked to "cut corners" when processing people who cross the border illegally.
Later that day in the House of Commons, Paul-Hus said he had been informed that security processing times at the border had been cut "considerably" and accused the government of offering "first-class service to those who don't respect our laws."
The Conservatives are also calling on the Liberals to declare the entire Canada-U.S. border an official point of entry — a measure that would close a perceived loophole in the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement.
Under the agreement, most people who make an asylum claim at the border are turned back to the United States. As a result, critics of the agreement say it has been driving asylum seekers to cross illegally in order to file claims.
The NDP and refugee advocacy groups have instead called for the agreement to be suspended, arguing that would eliminate the need for asylum seekers to cross illegally.
'Certainly not a crisis'
Lobat Sadrehashemi, president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, said asylum seekers who cross illegally shouldn't be labelled as queue-jumpers.
"There is no legal channel for them to cross to have their asylum claims determined," she said.
"The Safe Third Country Agreement means that if they do try and cross at a regular land border … they will be sent back to the United States, where we know many will face detention and deportation without a fair process."
Asylum seekers who cross between official checkpoints are identifying themselves to Canadian authorities, Sadrehashemi said.
After undergoing security and eligibility checks, those deemed eligible to enter Canada are allowed to remain, so that their claim can be determined by the Immigration and Refugee Board.
"That is certainly not a crisis," Sadrehashemi said.
A spokesperson for Hussen says the federal government has put in place a rigorous response to the spike in asylum seekers.
"Canada is an open and welcoming country to those in need of protection, but our government is committed to orderly migration to protect Canadians and our immigration system," said Mathieu Genest.
"Every person crossing the border undergoes a thorough security screening and we are taking action to speed up the asylum claim hearing process."
The federal government committed $173 million in its latest budget to security operations at the Canada-U.S. border and the processing of asylum seekers who cross over in 2018-19, but Conservatives say more money isn't the solution.
"All the government has done is throw hundreds of millions of dollars at the problem and it's only become worse," Rempel said, citing continued arrivals by asylum seekers.
Motion unlikely to pass
Conservatives blame Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for the increase in illegal crossings, arguing he encouraged would-be asylum seekers to come to Canada when he tweeted a message of welcome in January 2017.
Trudeau posted the message one day after U.S. President Donald Trump imposed a four-month ban on refugees and temporarily restricted entry to the U.S. for travellers from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WelcomeToCanada?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WelcomeToCanada</a>—@JustinTrudeau
The prime minister later reminded would-be asylum seekers that crossing illegally in the country offers no advantage when it comes to obtaining refugee status in Canada.
Unlikely to win the support of MPs from other parties, the Conservative motion will almost certainly be defeated.