The total number of illegal border crossings made by asylum seekers increased slightly in June compared with the previous month, but has stayed relatively consistent since March, according to newly released government figures.

Most notably, the number of illegal border crossings went down in Manitoba and British Columbia from 106 and 60 in May to 63 and 39 respectively in June.

In Quebec, however, there were 781 illegal crossings in June compared with 576 the previous month. It was the largest number of illegal crossings in that province since January.

"While the total number of irregular border crossers in June is in line with recent months, there has been a pronounced shift in the entry location; the reductions seen in Manitoba have been accompanied by increases in Quebec," Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said in a statement.

In the first six months of the year, there were 4,345 illegal border crossings to Canada, with the vast majority, 3,350, occurring in Quebec, followed by 646 in Manitoba and 332 in B.C.

New Brunswick has had only had one case all year, Alberta two and Saskatchewan 14.

"Canadian authorities are continuing to effectively manage the arrival of asylum seekers, applying our laws and procedures to keep Canadians safe while fully respecting all of our international obligations," Goodale said.

Safe Third Party Agreement

Asylum seekers are crossing the border illegally to avoid being ensnared in the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, which only applies to those trying to enter at official land border crossings, by train or at airports

Under the agreement, refugee claimants are required to request refugee protection in the first safe country they arrive in, unless they qualify for an exception spelled out in the agreement.

Refugees arriving in the U.S. must make their claim in that country. If a claimant is rejected in the U.S. they will also be rejected by Canada at an official border crossing.

Crossing illegally allows asylum seekers to avoid coming under the agreement, permitting them to make a claim in Canada.  

Anyone who doesn't meet an exception would have a request for entry into Canada automatically rejected.

The NDP has joined many immigration lawyers in calling on the federal government to suspend the agreement for 90 days, arguing that the pact is forcing people to put their lives and limbs at risk by crossing between official border crossings.

Goodale said that trying to slip across the border is not a "free ticket" into Canada and those attempting the journey will be arrested, have their identity confirmed and records examined. Those without a genuine claim are removed from the country.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen has said there is no plan to change or halt the agreement.

During this week's Council of the Federation talks in Edmonton, premiers discussed immigration issues, including successfully resettling refugees. 

In a closing statement, provinces committed to addressing the needs of asylum seekers "with dignity, respect and security."

The premiers' statement called on the federal government to address growing wait times for asylum claims to be processed, and to work with jurisdictions seeing a spike in refugee claimants on a "comprehensive, long-term plan which would include additional legal aid funding from the federal government."

With files from Kathleen Harris