RCMP says it has intercepted 3,800 asylum seekers crossing illegally into Quebec since Aug. 1
Garneau announces additional temporary housing in Ontario, new task force to address migrant boom
In what the RCMP is calling an "unprecedented" boom in asylum seekers, it says more than 3,800 people crossed the border illegally into Quebec during the two weeks spanning Aug. 1 to Aug. 15.
The figures were released after RCMP held a technical briefing Thursday with the Canada Border Services Agency and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
"Our officers are patrolling 24 hours day, all year long and we have never seen such numbers coming in," said RCMP spokesperson Claude Castonguay.
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According to Immigration, the RCMP also intercepted 2,996 asylum seekers crossing illegally into Quebec in July.
Since June 1, the RCMP said, more than 7,000 people have illegally entered Canada.
"Our officers have to check the identification of each individual to ensure they do not represent a danger or a threat to the Canadian population. We can assure you that the only law they've broken is entering the country illegally," Castonguay said.
He said RCMP officers are applying the same rigour to each verification, despite the sharp increase in people crossing the border illegally.
"At no time has the security of the country been compromised."
Canada 'open, welcoming' but no 'free passes'
CBSA spokesperson Patrick Lefort said the RCMP is transferring around 200 to 300 asylum claimants per day to the official border crossing at Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, though that number can fluctuate daily.
He said in recent days there have been around 1,000 to 1,200 asylum seekers at the Lacolle crossing waiting for their claims to be processed.
While underscoring that Canada remains an "open, welcoming country" to all those seeking asylum, Lefort said crossing the border between entry points is illegal and there are no "free passes" into the country.
"There are rigorous immigration and customs rules and they will be applied," he said.
To help keep up on top of the number of claims that need processing, he said, an additional 30 border agents are being transferred to Lacolle from other regions in the country.
Immigration spokesperson Louis Dumas addressed the false information circulating among Haitians on social media in the United States, namely a WhatsApp message that says Canada is inviting people to make asylum claims.
"It is not a message from the government of Canada; strict processes are in place for all people claiming asylum, regardless of how they enter into Canada," he said.
He said there is no guarantee that one requesting asylum can stay in Canada, noting that 50 per cent of Haitians who requested asylum in 2016 had their claims rejected.
A majority of asylum seekers coming into Quebec since July are Haitians from the United States.
With the U.S. Department of Homeland Security saying it considers Haiti to be a safe country now, the temporary protection status for Haitians in the U.S. granted after the 2010 earthquake is set to expire in January.
In order to accommodate the growing number of migrants crossing into Quebec, Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau and Quebec Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil announced new measures for housing and security Thursday.
A new temporary intake centre has opened in Cornwall, Ont., to ease the burden on Quebec, which has been housing claimants in centres across Montreal. Some asylum seekers had already arrived at the Cornwall centre from Montreal early Thursday morning.
Garneau said the Cornwall centre has 300 rooms and that tents can be installed outside the building if necessary.
"This will remove some of the pressure on us," said Weil, referencing the provincial government. She has urged Ottawa to help with additional temporary housing for asylum seekers.
As of Wednesday, she said 3,307 asylum seekers were in temporary residences across Quebec. She said the new building in Cornwall will give the provincial government more resources to find more permanent housing for migrants.
The provincial government also announced Thursday afternoon the opening of another temporary shelter in Laval, just north of Montreal. The former seniors' residence in Laval is set to open next week and can accommodate up to 200 people.
New task force, more immigration officers
There will also be a new task force led by Garneau in collaboration with Weil, Public Security Minister Ralph Goodale, Federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, Liberal MP Emmanuel Dubourgh and the Ontario Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Laura Albanese to oversee the surge in asylum seekers.
"It's important that Canadians know this is a situation that is out of the ordinary but that is under control," said Garneau.
The federal government will also strengthen its awareness campaign to ensure that migrants crossing illegally know that asylum seekers are subject to the same laws and procedures as others when it comes to their refugee claims.
"It's very important for us to communicate the correct information and that is what we are doing," said Garneau, adding that it was imperative for Canadian officials to stop the spread of misinformation.
Garneau also announced that the Immigration Department will have 20 more immigration officers based in Montreal to speed up processing asylum seekers' claims.
"We're working hard to try and do this as quickly as possible," said Garneau.
When asked about the budget for the new measures, Garneau said he couldn't give the precise amount of funding, but the current priority is to "meet the demand" when it comes to accommodating asylum seekers.
With files from CBC's Kate McKenna, Verity Stevenson and Radio-Canada