Government pressed on plan to deal with migrants illegally crossing into Canada

The Liberal government is closely tracking the influx of asylum seekers illegally crossing into Canada, but opposition critics say more must be done to deal with the unfolding situation.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale praises communities for 'truly magnificent' response to migrants

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale praised the communities' response to migrants crossing from the U.S. into Canada. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The Liberal government is closely tracking the influx of asylum seekers illegally crossing into Canada, but opposition critics say much more must be done to keep migrants safe and to protect the integrity of the immigration system.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said today the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency are rearranging resources to ensure they can "deal effectively with the situation."

"Should they recommend changes or adjustments or additions to what they have on the ground now, obviously the government would be anxious to have their advice," he said.

Hundreds of people have been making the perilous, and illegal, journey from the U.S. into Canada, many of them fleeing a planned immigration crackdown south of the border

Goodale said the government will ensure Canadian laws are applied at the border and following the crossing of the border, and praised local communities for their "truly magnificent" response to the migrants.

"Obviously, they have concerns, but they've responded with compassion and with generosity and that is the kind of response that Canadians would expect both from themselves in terms of their common humanity," he said.

But as the government grapples with next steps, opposition critics have opposing views on how the government should respond to the influx.

Suspend agreement, NDP urges

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said the government must immediately suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement, a 2002 agreement with the United States which requires migrants to seek refugee status in the country they reach first.

RCMP officers helped children as they climbed through the snow to cross the border into Quebec. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

She said U.S. President Donald Trump's executive orders have created a "humanitarian crisis," causing people to risk life and limb to cross in to Canada illegally because they don't feel safe in the U.S.

"We have a desperate, desperate situation," she said. 

Welcoming refugees

The day after Trump signed executive orders suspending the intake of Syrian refugees and banning travel from residents of seven Muslim-majority countries, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sent a message on Twitter welcoming refugees.

"To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength," it read.

But Kwan said Trudeau must match "welcoming rhetoric" with real action instead of forcing people to cross through frozen fields by suspending the Safe Third Country Agreement.

"What is Canada going to do about it? Are we going to be complicit because that's what we're going right now. We're just being bystanders watching this unfold," she told CBC News. "I would say this is a very important moment in our history, to stand up for compassion, for humanitarianism, to stand up for human rights."

Family members are helped into Canada by RCMP officers along the U.S.-Canada border near Hemmingford on Friday. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Asked about the plan in the House of Commons today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government will continue to ensure that laws are enforced and followed while demonstrating the strength and integrity of Canada's immigration system.

"We will be welcoming, but we need to make sure that it's done properly at the same time by all officials in Canada," he said.

Deterring illegal crossings

Conservative public safety critic Tony Clement called for more resources for border agents and the RCMP to police areas that are under increasing pressure, which he said could help deter illegal crossings. He also called on the government to develop a comprehensive strategy to stop a situation he says is "spiralling out of control."

"Canadians are fair people, but they don't want queue-jumpers, they don't want people going around the system that we have in place, which is a very compassionate system," he said. "Canadians want the law to be applied."

Clement said trust in Canada's immigration system is at stake.

"I'm worried that if this snowballs and the hundreds that are migrating become thousands, it will test the integrity of our system, and that will not be good for anyone," he said.

"The safety of the claimants, the law being applied reasonably or fairly in our country...those things are at risk."