Baloney Meter: Has there been a significant reduction in irregular migration?

An examination of Border Security Minister Bill Blair's comments that the number of irregular migrants has decreased by 70 per cent in the last few months.

Bill Blair's comments that the number of irregular migrants is decreasing contains 'some baloney'

An asylum seeker, claiming to be from Eritrea, is questioned by an RCMP officer as he crosses the border into Canada from the United States last year near Champlain, N.Y. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

"The member opposite's assertion that the numbers (of irregular migrants) are going up is simply wrong. We have seen a significant reduction of those numbers just over the past few weeks. In the past several months, we have seen as much as a 70-per-cent reduction over what we experienced last year. " — Border Security Minister Bill Blair.

This was the response Border Security Minister Bill Blair provided on Oct. 25 to a question in the House of Commons posed by Conservative public safety critic Pierre Paul-Hus, who asked about the ongoing influx of irregular migrants crossing into Canada away from official entry points.

As part of his question, Paul-Hus said the "number of illegal border crossings continues to rise."

Blair rejected this as "simply wrong," citing a "significant reduction" of 70 per cent in the last several months compared to last year.

But is either statement true?

Spoiler alert: The Canadian Press Baloney Meter is a dispassionate examination of political statements culminating in a ranking of accuracy on a scale of "no baloney" to "full of baloney" (complete methodology below).

This one earns a rating of "some baloney." Here's why.

The facts

Canada began experiencing an influx of "irregular" border crossers in early 2017, shortly after U.S. President Donald Trump announced he would end a program that offered temporary status to immigrants from several countries to live in the United States.

Tens of thousands of asylum-seekers have since arrived in Canada from the U.S., avoiding official border checkpoints where they would have been turned away under the Safe Third Country agreement between the two countries. Instead, they've been crossing the border along forest paths and through fields, declaring their intent to seek refugee status once on Canadian soil.

The numbers

Blair says the significant drop in asylum seekers happened "in the past several months." Asylum claim statistics released by the Immigration Department show there was a reduction in the months of July to September this year compared to the same three months in 2017. But it was a drop of 53 per cent, not 70 per cent.

Blair's press secretary Marie-Emmanuelle Cadieux clarified that Blair was comparing only the month of August 2018 with August of 2017 when citing the 70-per-cent reduction.

In that month alone, there were indeed 70 per cent fewer irregular migrants compared with the year before.

However, year-over-year numbers show that overall, more people have crossed irregularly into Canada so far this year — 15,726, compared to the 15,102 crossings from January to September 2017.

The experts

Measuring and predicting the number of irregular migrants who might come to Canada is hard, says Janet Dench of the Canadian Council for Refugees.

She pointed to the fact that many predicted a major surge this summer, as was experienced in 2017, as the warmer summer months make travel easier. Others predicted an influx of Salvadoran asylum seekers after the Trump administration moved to end temporary protected status for over 250,000 Salvadorans living in the United States.

"In the spring we heard people saying, 'There's going to be these huge numbers of people crossing over into Quebec,' and it actually remained pretty steady," Dench said.

"It's very difficult to predict, but I would say the numbers that are coming in Canada now is more reflective of the total number of refugees in the world."

Jamie Liew, an immigration lawyer and associate professor of law at the University of Ottawa, agreed it is hard to predict the number of irregular migrants who might cross the border. But once they do they show up, Canada has legal obligations to allow them to go through the process of claiming refugee status.

"I think the number is only useful in terms of how the government plans to shift resources to address the applications that are coming in or to address issues that are happening at the border."

Both Dench and Liew said too much focus has been put on the numbers of irregular migrants, which is just one aspect of issues involving Canada's refugee system. The politicians could be debating more important things, such as how we handle migrants' cases.

The verdict

During the month of August, there was a 70-per-cent decrease in the number of irregular migrants crossing the border compared to the same month last year. However, given that there has been an overall increase in the number of asylum claims from irregular migrants so far this year compared to last year, Blair's statement that there has been a significant reduction contains "some baloney."

Methodology 

The Baloney Meter is a project of The Canadian Press that examines the level of accuracy in statements made by politicians.

Each claim is researched and assigned a rating based on the following scale:

No baloney — the statement is completely accurate

A little baloney — the statement is mostly accurate but more information is required

Some baloney — the statement is partly accurate but important details are missing

A lot of baloney — the statement is mostly inaccurate but contains elements of truth

Full of baloney — the statement is completely inaccurate