Montreal

Asylum seekers don't get 'free ticket,' Goodale says

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale is once again trying to reassure Canadians about the security of the country's borders, saying crossing into the country outside an official port of entry does not give asylum seekers a "free ticket."

Public safety minister seeks to reassure Canadians as number of asylum seekers rises

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen and Public Safety Minsiter Ralph Goodale were in Montreal on Monday to give an update on how the government is handling asylum seekers. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale is once again trying to reassure Canadians about the security of the country's borders, saying crossing into the country outside an official port of entry does not give asylum seekers a "free ticket."

"All Canadian laws are and will continue to be enforced, and all our international obligations are and will continue to be honoured," Goodale said Monday in Montreal.

He was joined at the news conference by Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen and Transport Minister Marc Garneau, who also stressed the balance between security and humanitarian concerns.  

The comments come amid another spike in the number of asylum seekers crossing into Canada, particularly in Quebec, and heightened political rhetoric around the issue. 

Ottawa said last week it would build temporary housing for up to 520 people at Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, a Quebec border crossing close to Roxham Road, a crossing point that has seen the bulk of the influx in asylum seekers.

The opposition Conservatives, in turn, charged that the Liberal government is effectively setting up a refugee camp at the border.

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Federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale spoke to the CBC's Catherine Cullen on Monday 2:39

'Band-Aid approach'

On Monday, Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel called the Liberal measures a "Band-Aid approach."

"There's no evidence this will stem the tide of people exploiting the loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement," she said in Ottawa. "The Liberals once again refused to close the loophole."

The Safe Third Country Agreement took effect in December 2004 and states Canada and the United States recognize each other as safe places for refugee claimants to seek protection.

But the agreement only applies for claims made at an official border crossing, so if asylum seekers enter at an irregular crossing, they are entitled to a hearing.

Quebec has called on the federal government to do more to assist the province in handling new arrivals.

About 2,500 asylum seekers crossed into Quebec from the U.S. in April, Garneau said. He said about 90 per cent won't meet the criteria to stay.

He said the government is still in the process of developing its promised triage plan to help asylum seekers travel to Ontario, where many of them hope to go.

That process has already begun, at both provincial and municipal levels, he said. 

Immigration minister headed to Nigeria

Hussen said Canadian government officials have been working with the U.S. to crack down on U.S. tourist visas being used solely as a way to make it to the Canadian border to claim asylum.

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He said three officials have been dispatched to Nigeria, the country of origin of many of the new asylum seekers, and that he would be going in the near future as well.

The $173 million set aside for asylum seekers in this year's budget will go, in part, toward hiring new immigration and refugee board officials to speed up the wait for a hearing.

"When someone has a legitimate claim for refugee status, we want them to find out as soon as possible so that their life is not in limbo, and they can move on. Equally importantly, if people do not have a legitimate claim for refugee status, it's important to be able to process the claim quickly, so they can then be asked to leave Canada," he said. 

The government used a giant poster board to outline, in broad strokes, what happens after someone crosses illegally.

They are arrested and detained by the RCMP immediately after crossing, subject to background screening, an eligibility screening and, if permitted, apply for an asylum claim.

The Canadian government used this graphic to explain the process after an asylum seeker is intercepted while crossing into Canada illegally. (Government of Canada)

With files from The Canadian Press

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