Former Toronto police chief Bill Blair takes charge of Canada’s borders

Reasonable political and operational management approach to address the influx. Having a more dedicated junior minister, with law enforcement experience, won’t change the fundamentals of the impact of US policies but may help both internal government discussions and public debates:

Former Toronto police chief Bill Blair has been given the task of managing the migrant crisis at the border as part of his new cabinet appointment – a move that will require him to work directly with Ontario Premier and long-time adversary Doug Ford.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chose Mr. Blair, an experienced senior public servant, to lead the new ministry of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction as a part of a federal cabinet shuffle Wednesday. Mr. Blair will oversee the surge in asylum seekers at the Canada-U.S. border, gun violence and the cannabis file. Mr. Trudeau said he trusts Mr. Blair to counter the “politics of fear” that he says the Conservatives have been using, especially when it comes to asylum seekers.

“I am reminded of the very first conversation I had with Bill Blair years ago when I was asking him to think about running for the Liberal Party,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa on Wednesday.

“One of the things he said stuck with me and certainly echoes in my mind today as we give him these new responsibilities − he said the No. 1 enemy of public security is fear.”

Mr. Blair’s new role puts him on a potential collision course with Mr. Ford, with whom he has a fraught history. Mr. Blair infuriated Mr. Ford in 2013 when the then-Toronto police chief said he was disappointed by a video of Mr. Ford’s brother and then-Toronto mayor Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine. Doug Ford, a city councillor at the time, unleashed on Mr. Blair and called on him to step down as police chief.

Nearly five years later, now in new political jobs, the pair will face off once again. As a part of his irregular migration portfolio, Mr. Blair will have to navigate a tense relationship between the Trudeau and Ford governments over the resettlement of asylum seekers who cross the border illegally. Earlier this month, Mr. Ford withdrew the province’s support for the resettlement, saying that the federal government created the problem and should pick up the tab to fix it.

Speaking to reporters in Ottawa on Wednesday, Mr. Blair said he looks forward to working with all three levels of government, which “have a responsibility for the safety of their communities and to uphold the rule of law.”

In a statement, Mr. Ford’s office maintained the the federal Liberals are to blame for the influx in border-crossers.

“Premier Ford is hopeful that Minister Blair will be interested in standing up for respect of the law, and encourages his Liberal colleagues to take responsibility for the mess they’ve created,” spokeswoman Laryssa Waler-Hetmanczuk said.

The Prime Minister’s Office said Mr. Blair will head up the government’s work on the migrant issue, while working closely with Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, who is responsible for the border agency, and Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, who will still oversee the refugee determination process.

Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel said the appointment of a new cabinet minister to the migrant file is yet another sign that the Liberal government is “normalizing” the situation at the border. More than 31,000 asylum seekers have entered Canada between authorized points of entry since January, 2017. She invited Mr. Blair to testify to the House of Commons immigration committee this summer when it holds a series of emergency meetings on asylum seekers.

Refugee advocates expressed concern about the government’s decision to put the migrant issue under the ministerial umbrella of border security and organized-crime reduction.

“Now they are going to have an enforcement approach, to be stronger at the border,” said Francisco Rico-Martinez, co-director of the FCJ Refugee Centre in Toronto.

“Don’t forget that people in the middle are human beings, refugee claimants … . Don’t blame them.”

via Former Toronto police chief Bill Blair takes charge of Canada’s borders – The Globe and Mail

Conservative party pulls attack ad of black man walking over Trudeau tweet

The Conservative party pulled an attack ad from its Twitter feed Tuesday that depicted a black man carrying a suitcase walking over a tweet from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The tweet is rolled out as a carpet entering a broken fence and the words “faith” and “diversity” are visible.

The Tories have argued that a Trudeau tweet from January 2017 is partly to blame for the influx of asylum seekers crossing into Canada from the United States.

Conservative party spokesman Cory Hann says the ad was axed because the situation at the border is not about any one group of people.

Hann says the image, which shows an actual person “illegally” crossing over the Canadian border, was originally used by a number of media outlets with stories about the surge in asylum seekers.

The full photo shows the man with a group of people carrying suitcases in Quebec, while the edited image used by the Conservative party singled out one man.

A quote from a story in the Financial Post is superimposed on the image which says, “Trudeau’s holier-than-thou tweet causes migrant crisis — now he needs to fix what he started.”

In an opinion piece published Tuesday, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen accused the Tories of “peddling false information to stoke fear” and called it “ridiculous” that they blame the flow of asylum seekers on Trudeau’s tweet.

Source: Conservative party pulls attack ad of black man walking over Trudeau tweet

Andrew Coyne: We have a problem with border crossers — but this is no crisis, John Ivison: The Liberals’ Band-Aid solutions won’t fix asylum seeker problem

Good and balanced analysis:

Bowing to the opposition parties’ demands, the Commons Citizenship and Immigration committee will hold special hearings this month on what Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel is calling the “border crisis.”

The notion that there is a crisis on the border — that Canada is being inundated by a tide of asylum claimants crossing the border in defiance of our laws — has been heard with increasing frequency in recent weeks, coinciding with the election of Doug Ford’s Conservatives in Ontario.

Last week’s meeting of federal and provincial immigration ministers broke up in acrimony over the issue, with the feds’ Ahmed Hussen decrying the Ford government’s use of the term “illegal border crossers” as “not Canadian” (Liberals prefer “asylum seekers”) while his counterpart Lisa MacLeod accused him of bullying her. Followed by the usual performative outrage online — he called her un-Canadian! she called them illegal! etc.

All of this mounting fury, while the number of people claiming asylum after crossing the border between regular ports of entry — the neutral and factual description — is in decline.

In June, the Immigration department recorded just 1,263 “RCMP interceptions” — for that is what happens to them after they cross — less than half what it was in April and barely a quarter of the rate last summer.

Still, the 10,744 such interceptions so far this year is two and a half times the number recorded by this point last year. Perhaps the rate will continue its recent decline. But even if the year-end total were the same as last year’s, it would still be considerably higher than has been the norm in recent years.

That’s a problem, no doubt. The monthly rate may be declining, but the accumulated total of more than 30,000 claims over the last 18 months is by all accounts putting a strain on refugee services in Toronto and Montreal. The growing backlog of unprocessed claims, moreover, now at about 43,000, leaves claimants waiting months or years to have their claims assessed: unpleasant for them, costly for taxpayers.

But a crisis? What distinguishes this from any of the many other pressing problems on the public agenda? What, in particular, justifies the kind of massive media coverage and opposition hyperventilating the issue has received?

It is, of course, entirely proper that the opposition should ask questions of ministers, and criticize the government’s response to the surge in claims as inadequate, botched or worse. It may even be fair to suggest the government shares the blame for precipitating it, notably via the prime minister’s notorious “Welcome to Canada” tweet.

But you can tell a lot about what a politician is up to by how much emphasis they put on an issue. It isn’t that what they are saying about it is necessarily untrue: it’s the lack of proportion, the fevered pitch, the exaggerated stakes.

It was perfectly legitimate, for example, for Dalton McGuinty to disagree with John Tory’s proposal to extend public funding to religious schools in the 2007 election, though the proposal would have affected roughly 50,000 of the province’s two million schoolchildren. But to elevate it to the central issue of the campaign, as if the province would dissolve into civil strife if it went through? That’s where the demagoguery lies.

So what is it about the prospect of roughly 60 asylum seekers a day crossing our border that is cause for such uproar? Yes, they are crossing “illegally,” even if the charge is stayed pending the hearing of their asylum claim: Liberal delicacy on this point is not helpful. That’s obviously not something we should wish to encourage.

But on the scale of illegal acts, doing an end run around a border post to get your asylum claim heard in Canada, rather than the United States — especially in its present state of mind — ranks somewhere between a traffic offence and listing a dubious expense on your income tax return. People shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it, and they aren’t: the first thing that happens after they cross the border is they are arrested.

They aren’t dodging any “queue,” because there isn’t a queue for refugees. You plant your feet on Canadian soil, you have a right to have your claim for asylum heard, period — not just under UN treaties to which we are a signatory, but under the Canadian Constitution. But that’s all you have a right to: a hearing. If your claim doesn’t stand up, you’re deported to your country of origin.

If that’s taking too long, that’s a good argument for spending more money on the process for assessing claims. It is not an argument for the kinds of wild, blunderbuss measures being tossed about, most of them illegal, unworkable or both: building a fence along one short stretch of road in Quebec, for instance, when claimants have 8,000 kilometres of border to choose from.

Or — the Conservatives’ favourite — declaring the entire border an official port of entry under the Safe Third Country agreement, as if we could impose our definition on the Americans, under an agreement we begged them to sign. Or “just sending them back” — as if, again, we could force the Americans to take them. To say nothing of the legal and moral implications of doing so.

To say nothing, again, of the logistical impossibility of patrolling an 8,000-km border. Right now, claimants willingly surrender at the border, even having crossed it illegally, because they know they’ll get a hearing. Were we somehow to deny them that — by invoking the notwithstanding clause, say — you’d have a lot more people arriving surreptitiously: not just crossing illegally, but living here illegally.

Sometimes, it is true, you have to do desperate things in a crisis. But this isn’t a crisis and, if it were, these wouldn’t solve it.

Source: Andrew Coyne: We have a problem with border crossers — but this is no crisis

John Ivison focuses on the IRB, the lengthy and almost indefinite processes and delays in removals for those found ineligible , and the recommendations of the Yeates report on possible solutions:

The Liberal government didn’t create the problem of floods of asylum seekers crossing the border illegally. Donald Trump did that when he signalled the U.S. would allow temporary protected status on significant migrant populations from countries like Haiti to expire.

But the Liberals can be fairly blamed for making decisions that have exacerbated the problem — and for fomenting the issue for political ends.

Gerald Butts, the prime minister’s principal secretary, tweeted on the weekend: “Enough is enough. It’s time to stand up to this divisive fear-mongering about asylum seekers. Let’s not allow the alt-right to do here what they’re doing elsewhere.”

But pointing out failures in the system is not an act of partisanship – it’s certainly not an invocation to bash people already on the bones of their arse. The numbers don’t lie and, by every metric, the system is under more pressure now than when the Liberals came to power.

The government is touting the fact that there were just 1,263 border crossings in June — “the lowest since June, 2017.” But 10,744 migrants arrived in the first six months of the year – more than enough to outpace the budgeted processing capacity.

The Commons Citizenship and Immigration Committee met Monday and agreed to produce a report on “irregular” (more correctly “illegal”) border crossings by Aug. 3, and to invite the ministers of immigration (Ahmed Hussen), public safety (Ralph Goodale) and families, children and social development (Jean-Yves Duclos) to appear.

Hussen boasted Monday the government “has a clear plan for managing asylum seeker pressures,” as the city of Ottawa suggested it will support Toronto and other municipalities facing temporary housing pressures (many migrants are housed in two college dormitories that they have to vacate before classes start). Toronto said it needs around $90 million; the federal government has, to this point, offered $11 million.

But whatever is offered is a Band-Aid – and a Band-Aid does not constitute a plan.

Before all sides engage in more pointless partisan point-scoring, they should sit down and read a report on the refugee system already made public.

Neil Yeates, a former deputy minister of citizenship and immigration, produced an independent review of the system that was released in April. It makes stark reading. The refugee determination system, he said, is “at a crossroads,” dealing with a surge of claimants that it is ill-equipped to manage. If not tackled promptly, a large backlog will build that will take years to clear.

The nearly 50,000 claims made in 2017 were mostly from people avoiding the Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S. that would likely have rendered them ineligible. By the simple act of crossing between ports of entry, they have been able to access Canada and its generous welfare provisions.

But sudden surges in migrant numbers is not a new problem.

The government made significant reforms between 2010 and 2012 to address a similar increase. The Balanced Refugee Reform legislation was aimed at making sure bona fide claimants would be approved more quickly and failed claimants removed just as judiciously.

The goal was a system that was “fast, fair and final.”

Alongside the imposition of visas on Mexicans and Czechs because of concerns over bogus claims, there were structural changes that allowed public servants, rather than political appointees, to be the first level decision makers at the Immigration and Refugee Board’s Refugee Protection Division. There was also an increase in operating funds that allowed for the elimination of the backlog within two years. Stable funding was put in place to facilitate a system that handled 22,500 claims annually.

The numbers between 2010 and 2017 are instructive.

In 2010, before the changes, there were 52,023 pending cases; the intake was 25,783; and the output was 34,260.

In 2013, the corresponding numbers were 22,544; 10,227; and 21,091.

By 2017, those numbers were 47,209; 47,425; and 23,102.

A more streamlined system saw the backlog cut in half and bogus claimants dissuaded from trying to enter Canada – only 10,227 people claimed asylum here in 2013.

Since then, the backlog has more than doubled and claimants quadrupled, as visas were waived for Mexicans and Romanians, and floods of Haitians and Nigerians were attracted by word that the Canadian system is a push-over.

Part of the reason the backlog went down was that failed claimants were actually removed. In 2012/13, 14,490 failed claimants were returned to their country of origin. In 2016/17, that number was just 3,892.

The result is a refugee population that “significantly exceeds the funding capacity,” in Yeates’ words. “Resourcing and prioritization of refugee removals are not fully at the level envisaged under the reforms,” he said.

Hussen is right to say that providing asylum claimants due process is not a choice, “it’s the law” under the UN Convention on Refugees and the Charter of Rights.

But due process should not be indefinite. Yeates talks about a “failure of finality” that creates a “pull” factor for asylum seekers, increasing the likelihood they will find a pathway to stay in Canada.

He is critical of the Refugee Appeal Division, which was never intended to provide a new hearing for failed claimants. If they are refused at the appeal division, would-be refugees can then proceed to the Federal Court, meaning “final is a distant goal,” according to Yeates.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen says the government “has a clear plan for managing asylum seeker pressures.”

If the system is not reformed to make it faster and more final, there clearly needs to be a significant increase in a budget that has averaged around $216 million in the past five years.

Hussen said there is a plan, but Yeates points out “there is no contingency framework to increase capacity.”

Any report by the immigration committee should lean heavily on the Yeates report, which suggests dozens of technical reforms that might improve the situation, such as creating a new agency to recommend an annual plan, establish operational performance targets and confirm forecasts. The plan should be tabled in Parliament, Yeates suggested.

But no amount of bureaucratic tinkering will compensate for lack of political will.

The government must get serious about removing claimants, particularly from countries that don’t normally produce refugees.

Alternatively, it must admit that it accepts the idea of the refugee system being used by people seeking a better economic life and allocate hundreds of millions of dollars to increase the capacity of a system creaking under the challenge of dealing with twice as many people as it was designed for.

Source: John Ivison: The Liberals’ Band-Aid solutions won’t fix asylum seeker problem

Irregular or illegal? The fight over what to call the thousands of migrants streaming into Canada

Nice summary. My mother was an “irregular” if not “illegal” when her mother spirited her and her siblings to Latvia when fleeing the Russian Revolution:

On Monday, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen publicly rebuked Ontario’s new government for using the term “illegal border crossers” in a press release.

“I’m very concerned by Premier (Doug) Ford and (provincial) minister (Lisa) MacLeod really making statements that are difficult to understand when it comes to how they’re describing asylum seekers,” Hussen told reporters in Halifax.

The minister was referring to a statement in which Ford blamed Ontario’s housing crisis on Liberal government policies that “encouraged illegal border crossers to come into our country.”

The spat speaks to an intractable political fight in Canada: Whether the approximately 50 people per day streaming into Canada over the U.S. border are “illegal” or “irregular” migrants.

The Immigration and Refugee Board uses the term “irregular” when referring to the more than 23,000 refugee claimants who have walked into Canada since January 2017 without first passing through an official port of entry. The RCMP, meanwhile, prefers the neutral term “interceptions.”

The official CBC language guide favours “illegal border crossers,” calling it “bureaucratic jargon” to use the term “irregular” favoured by Ottawa.

“Some refugee activists have insisted that expressions such as ‘illegal’ border crossings should be banned from our journalism. The modifier ‘illegal’ in this context is accurate and clear, and it instantly helps our audience understand the story,” reads the guide.

In the House of Commons, the use of the term “illegal border crosser” is strictly divided along partisan lines.

It has been uttered 67 times in parliamentary debates since the crisis began in January 2017. Of those, 65 came from the mouths of Conservatives, and the other two came exclusively from New Brunswick Liberal MP Serge Cormier.

“They are not “irregular” border crossers; they are illegal border crossers. Let us get this straight,” Conservative MP John Brassard said in April.

The NDP and Liberal benches, meanwhile, have repeatedly accused the Tories of scaremongering.

“The Conservatives have repeated ad nauseam that these people are crossing the border illegally, implying that they are criminals. However, they have been unable to name a single law broken by the immigrants crossing the border,” said the NDP’s Anne Minh-Thu Quach in April.

Crossing the Canadian border without passing through an official port of entry is indeed illegal. Most migrants illegally crossing the border, in fact, pass directly in front of a bilingual sign telling them that they are breaking the law.

“It is illegal to cross the border here or any place other than a Port of Entry. You will be arrested and detained if you cross here,” reads a sign placed near Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que., a focal point for unauthorized border crossings.

However, the illegality ends up being moot since every border crosser immediately claims asylum after being met by an RCMP officer on the Canadian side.

By doing this, their crossing is still illegal, but Canadian law stops considering them a criminal the moment they claim to be a refugee.

Under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (section 133, to be precise), a refugee claimant is explicitly “deferred” from prosecution for a variety of illegal measures that they may have used to enter Canada for claiming asylum.

This includes forging false papers, assuming a false identity and illegally crossing the border.

The measure is an acknowledgement that people fleeing political prosecution can’t always get to Canada without breaking a few laws.

One of the more dramatic examples would be Soviet chess grandmaster Igor Ivanov. On a flight back from Cuba in 1980, Ivanov fled his KGB handlers during an emergency refueling stop in Gander, N.L.

Jumping from an airliner onto an airport tarmac is illegal, but Ivanov was never prosecuted after being granted political asylum.

Immigration lawyer Russ Weninger said it’s a criminal law concept called the “defence of necessity.”

“A person can in some cases perform acts that would otherwise be considered criminal if they must perform those acts to avoid some significant harm,” he said. “For example, if you are fleeing an axe-wielding maniac, you can ‘trespass’ onto someone’s property in order to effect your escape.

It’s why, if a border crosser is a “bona fide refugee,” Weninger says she has a right to enter Canada “whether she waits politely at the border or parachutes onto Parliament Hill.”

It’s for that reason that Toronto immigration lawyer Matthew Jeffery describes the recent crossings as being “perfectly legal.”

He noted that Canada is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees “which legally obliges us to allow those entering the country as refugees to be admitted for a fair adjudication of their case.”

Prior to 2001, anybody on U.S. soil seeking asylum in Canada would have needed only to make their claim at a Canadian border station — no illegal entry necessary.

After the 9/11 attacks, however, the U.S. and Canada struck the Safe Third Country Agreement, a law which allows Canada to turn away refugee claimants from the U.S. on the basis that they are already in a “safe country” and are no longer in need of asylum.

By first crossing the Canadian border, however, asylum-seekers are effectively making an “inland” claim and are thus exempt from the provisions of the act.

Raj Sharma, a Calgary immigration lawyer, said “irregular” is the more accurate term given that an asylum seeker is technically still following Canadian law if they cross the border without authorization.

But the term “illegal” is still appropriate for anyone who is unlawfully crossing Canada’s border after already having been deported — or if they have no intention of making an asylum claim, Sharma said.

“It’s admittedly true that not all ‘irregular’ entries into Canada are legally justified,” said Weninger. “But for those people who are genuinely fleeing persecution, failure to wait in line at the border does not, and should not, preclude them from making successful refugee claims.”

Source: Irregular or illegal? The fight over what to call the thousands of migrants streaming into Canada

Martin Regg Cohn: Canadians should beware Premier Doug Ford using ‘illegal’ refugee claimants as a wedge to drive us apart

Agree that wedge politics being played here, arguably by both sides, with the more corrosive discourse and approach by Ford. One thing to argue over funding – yes, the federal government is largely on the hook – but another to refuse participation in all three level of government coordination and cooperation:

One week in power, and Doug Ford’s government has declared war against Justin Trudeau.

By taking aim at asylum claimants who cross into Canada.

That was fast. Don’t shed a tear for the prime minister, who can presumably take care of himself — whether rebuffing a Ford missive or repelling a Donald Trump tirade.

But ask yourself what happens to the inevitable casualties of this conflict between Queen’s Park and Ottawa:

No, not just the people crossing the border to claim refugee status. Think about the rest of us, and what this does to us — the way we treat border crossers, and the way we treat each other.

This will test all of us, not just Ontario’s new premier and his federal counterpart.

The rise in migrants slipping across the border has already challenged our border security and police officers, who have comported themselves with Canadian decency and dignity. It is testing our refugee determination system, which (lest we forget) is burdened and bound by due process.

Now, the border-crossing story that landed in Quebec a year ago, and then crossed over into eastern Ontario, has landed hard on Toronto’s doorstep. Just in time for Ford’s new Progressive Conservative team to seize on it as a wedge issue that drives people apart.

Beware the wedge that exploits refugee claimants — for while many may indeed be economic migrants gaming the system, a good number might well be legitimate victims of persecution seeking sanctuary. You never know, until you know for sure (see: due process).

Yet Ford’s government is wagging its finger at “illegal border crossers” in official statements that misstate reality and incite hostility. It is an axiom of international law that desperate refugee claimants often cross borders by hook or by crook, but that doesn’t make them criminals (it’s precisely how both my parents escaped post-war Communist Europe).

Ontario’s new minister of children and social services, Lisa MacLeod, points an accusing finger at Trudeau for supposedly triggering a mass migration when he “tweeted out that everyone was welcome here, and as a result of that, we’ve had thousands of people cross the border illegally.”

Was this truly the tweet that launched a thousand ships? Or dispatched thousands of taxis to our border, there to disgorge their human cargo on our doorstep as per the PM’s precise GPS directions?

Were it so simple, Trudeau need only delete the troubling tweet. But he never offered directions to those unauthorized border pathways, nor invitations to cross over at leisure.

Yes, Trudeau and countless Canadians took turns humble-bragging and boasting about our supposed virtue in welcoming Syrian refugees after Stephen Harper’s Conservatives behaved churlishly and Barack Obama’s America acted ungenerously. But to draw a direct line between a Trudeau tweet and an imagined human stampede to the border is to elevate the prime minister’s Twitter feed to Trumpian influence.

Let’s be clear here. The migrant movement that began last summer emanated not from any misplaced magnanimity by the PM, but from fear of a looming Trump clampdown on Haitians still enjoying sanctuary in the U.S. after a 2010 earthquake.

It bears repeating that Canada had previously ended that sanctuary status — yes, faster than the Americans — and was systematically deporting Haitians who were here back to their homeland. Oblivious to that fact, thousands of Haitians crossed over into Canada, making up 85 per cent of migrants at the outset.

Under an existing bilateral agreement, the U.S. automatically takes back any refugee claimants who show up at our side of official border crossings. But by slipping over out of sight of those official crossings, migrants exploited a loophole by which the Americans wouldn’t take them back.

Since then, there has been a long and awkward debate about what to do to avoid turning a trickle into a tide.

Federal Conservatives have suggested we declare the entire border one big crossing — as if this would force the Americans to take back their asylum claimants. But Trudeau can no more demand that Trump do as we say on refugees than he can insist that the president undo the tariffs he slapped on our steel and aluminum.

Shall we stand our ground and instruct our police to point guns and draw bayonets at asylum-seekers to keep them on the American side? Or heave them back across the border, throwing their bags after them? Do we build a Trump-style wall across our undefended border and demand Mexico pay for it?

Not really so easy, except in the virtual reality of Twitter.

It’s perfectly fair for the provincial and municipal governments to demand that Ottawa come up with the money and plans to deal with the pressure points in local facilities — in Ontario as in Quebec. To his credit, Mayor John Tory has been pressing the case for Toronto’s needs without turning people against migrants in need.

Ford’s government could learn from the mayor’s approach, instead of delegitimizing asylum-seekers as illegal, and demonizing Ottawa for following a legal framework. On Thursday, when Trudeau met him at Queen’s Park, a statement from the premier’s office declared, provocatively:

“This mess was 100 per cent the result of the federal government.”

In truth, there are no easy answers, just the certainty that public support can easily be turned against asylum-claimants if politicians want to press those buttons (see: Europe and America). All the more reason for all levels of government to start working together, rather than driving people apart.

Source: Martin Regg Cohn: Canadians should beware Premier Doug Ford using ‘illegal’ refugee claimants as a wedge to drive us apart

Federal budget watchdog to take deep dive into costs of asylum seekers

Notwithstanding the politics behind the request, useful to have the PBO do an independent analysis:

Canada’s budget watchdog will crunch the numbers to shed light on the total costs of a surge in asylum seekers.

In response to a request from Conservative MP Larry Maguire, the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) will take on a global accounting exercise to determine what costs have been incurred to date and how much the stepped-up pace of irregular migration might cost in the future.

“We just need to know, as Canadians, what the costs are and how the government intends to handle it in the future, given that many of our communities are becoming very loaded with the numbers of refugees, coming in to Toronto, Montreal and other areas,” Maguire said.

“We need to know from these various departments just what the total costs are going to be.”

More than 23,000 people have crossed into Canada outside official border points in the last year, most of them in Quebec and Manitoba. Major cities such as Toronto and Montreal are buckling under the pressure to house and support the new arrivals.

In a letter to the PBO, Maguire said the asylum seeker spike has created “serious financial strains and workloads” on several federal government departments, yet there has been little public reporting on costs.

Canadians ‘deserve to know’

“While this crisis has been ongoing for some time, the government has given no indication of what it has cost to facilitate the increasing numbers of irregular arrivals, nor has it shown any projections for what it may cost in the future,” he wrote. “I believe that Parliamentarians, and indeed all Canadians, deserve to know exactly what the influx of irregular arrivals at the border is costing their government.”

Maguire’s request calls for:

  • Total costs to date, including added costs to the Canada Border Services Agency, the RCMP, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, the Canadian Armed Forces and the Immigration Review Board, as well as any transfers to provinces or municipalities.
  • A projection of total costs to deal with similar numbers of irregular arrivals for the next several years, outlining the costs from the time a person irregularly enters Canada to when a final decision is made by the Immigration Refugee Board or Federal Court.

The PBO is charged with providing independent, non-partisan analysis on federal finances, government estimates and trends in the economy.

PBO spokesperson Sloane Mask could not say how long the accounting will take, but said the office has begun requesting information from various government departments.

“Once we have received the responses, we will be in a better position to gauge the timelines required to complete the analysis,” she wrote in an email.

Source: Federal budget watchdog to take deep dive into costs of asylum seekers

Migration to Europe Is Down Sharply. So Is It Still a ‘Crisis’? – The New York Times

Good updated data:

On the beaches of Greece, thousands of migrants landed every day. In the ports of Italy, thousands landed every week. Across the borders of Germany, Austria and Hungary, hundreds of thousands passed every month.

But that was in 2015.

Three years after the peak of Europe’s migration crisis, Greek beachesare comparatively calm. Since last August, the ports of Sicily have been fairly empty. And here on the remote island of Lampedusa — the southernmost point of Italy and once the front line of the crisis — the migrant detention center has been silent for long stretches. Visitors to the camp on Monday could hear only the sound of bird song.

“It’s the quietest it’s been since 2011,” said the island’s mayor, Salvatore Martello. “The number of arrivals has dramatically reduced.”

It is the paradox of Europe’s migration crisis: The actual number of arriving migrants is back to its pre-2015 level, even as the politics of migration continue to shake the Continent.

On Thursday, leaders of the European Union are gathering in Brussels for a fraught meeting on migration that could hasten the political demise of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and unravel the bloc’s efforts to form a coherent migration policy.

The precipitous drop in migrant arrivals doesn’t mean that Europe is without real challenges. Countries are still struggling to absorb the roughly 1.8 million sea arrivals since 2014. Public anxiety has risen in countries like Germany after high-profile assaults involving migrants, including the killing of a 19-year-old German student and the terrorist attack on a Christmas market that killed 12 people.

And leaders still have sharp disagreements about who should take responsibility for the newcomers — border states like Greece and Italy, where most migrants enter Europe; or wealthier countries like Germany, which many migrants subsequently attempt to reach.

But what is striking is how many leaders, particularly in far-right parties, continue to successfully create the impression that Europe is a continent under siege from migrants, even as the numbers paint a very different picture.29

“We have failed to defend ourselves against the migrant invasion,” Viktor Orban, the far-right prime minister of Hungary, said in a recent speech. He has made it a jailable offense for Hungarians to assist undocumented migrants.

Nor is Mr. Orban alone in taking a hard line. Since the start of the month, Matteo Salvini, the Italian interior minister, has closed Italy’s ports to charity-run rescue boats. Horst Seehofer, the German interior minister, has threatened to turn back refugees at his country’s southern border. And across the Atlantic, President Trump has claimed, wrongly, that migration led to a crime epidemic in Germany.

The tactics seem to have worked. Data released this month by the European Union showed that Europeans are more concerned about immigration than about any other social challenge. Mr. Salvini’s party is now leading in Italian polls, up 10 percentage points since an electionin March. Mr. Orban won re-election in April with an increased majority, after a campaign in which he focused almost exclusively on migration.

Even on Lampedusa, Mr. Martello won the mayoralty last year by promising to focus more on local issues than on burnishing the island’s international reputation as a place of sanctuary for migrants.

But the reality on the ground is that, despite the rhetoric, migration is back to pre-crisis levels — and has been for some time.

More than 850,000 asylum seekers arrived in Greece in 2015, with most of them eventually making their way to northern European countries like Germany. So far this year, little more than 13,000 have made the same journey. More than 150,000 people arrived in Italy in 2015; the number so far this year is less than 17,000. In 2016, when applications were at their highest, more than 62,000 people sought asylum in Germany, on average, every month. This year, that average has fallen to little more than 15,000 — the lowest since 2013.

On Lampedusa, more than 21,000 migrants landed in 2015. So far this year, the figure is less than 1,100. Only in Spain have arrival numbers risen, from more than 16,000 in all of 2015 to just over 17,000 so far in 2018. But the increase is still comparatively small — more people would arrive in a single week on the Greek island of Lesbos at the height of the crisis than are likely to arrive in Spain this year.

“It’s an invented crisis,” said Matteo Villa, a migration specialist at the Italian Institute for International Political Studies. “The high flows of the last years have bolstered nationalist parties, who are now creating a crisis of their own in order to score cheap political points.”

Mr. Salvini and Mr. Orban have cultivated popular support by creating the impression that they are the only leaders willing to make the tough decisions needed to reduce migration. Yet the European establishment, under pressure from the likes of Mr. Orban and Mr. Salvini, has been quietly working for some time with the main gatekeepers along the migration trails to Europe, including with authoritarian regimes, to bring the numbers down.

In Italy, arrival numbers plummeted after Mr. Salvini’s predecessor controversially persuaded several militias to halt the smuggling industry in northern Libya, and to keep thousands of would-be migrants in dangerous conditions in makeshift Libyan detention centers.

“The measures implemented by the previous government, which Salvini was so critical of, have actually been effective,” said Andrew Geddes, director of the Migration Policy Center at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy.

At the same time, several European governments have made deportation agreements with Sudan, whose leader, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, has been charged with war crimes charges. A deal with Nigerhas helped a crackdown on smuggling in the Western Sahara. And most controversially, the German and Dutch governments brokered a European Union deal in 2016 with the authoritarian government of Turkey that led to an immediate and drastic drop in migration to Greece.

Lesbos, Greece, in 2015, and in March 2018. Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times; Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

“The paradox is that, in this narrative that Merkel opened the E.U.’s borders, it was in fact Merkel, with the Dutch, who negotiated the most effective agreement on the borders of the E.U.,” said Gerald Knaus, director of the European Stability Initiative, a Berlin-based research group that first proposed the deal, and that drafted early versions of it.

Now Europe’s challenge is largely about process: How to house asylum seekers waiting for decisions on their cases; how to integrate them into the economy and into society if their applications are approved; and how to deport them if not. These challenges remain as officials also have yet to fully address the squalid migrant camps of Greece, which house roughly half of the country’s 60,000 asylum seekers, or the underground economy of Italy, where many of the country’s 500,000 undocumented migrants are exploited.

The European Union summit meeting that opens on Thursday is a reminder of how much the political landscape has shifted. Ms. Merkel, the German chancellor who was once the Continent’s unassailable leader, now needs to secure an agreement with other European leaders to stave off a political crisis at home.

Her rebellious Bavarian interior minister, Mr. Seehofer, has threatened to close Germany’s border with Austria to asylum seekers who have already registered elsewhere in Europe, usually in Greece or Italy. Ms. Merkel wants to avoid this, as it would most likely set off a domino effect of stricter border controls across the Continent. That would obstruct the movement not just of refugees but also of European Union citizens, endangering one of the bloc’s core values: free movement between member states.

Mr. Seehofer has agreed to wait while Ms. Merkel tries to negotiate at the summit meeting an improved asylum system for the European Union, but this seems a distant prospect, as no one can agree what that system should look like. Some leaders, like Mr. Orban in Hungary, say that Europe should simply protect its borders without worrying about the complexities of its asylum system.

The Keleti train station in central Budapest, Hungary, in 2015 and this month. Mauricio Lima for The New York Times; Akos Stiller for The New York Times

“If we defend our borders, the debate on the distribution of migrants becomes meaningless, as they won’t be able to enter,” he said in a speech this month.

Others, like Ms. Merkel, want to reduce migration but acknowledge it cannot be ended entirely unless Europe abandons the right to asylum that was enshrined in the international conventions that emerged in the aftermath of World War II.

To uphold this right while also curbing migration, officials in Brussels want to set up offshore hubs to process asylum applications in Africa, while some analysts argue it would be easier and cheaper to invest in more efficient asylum systems in Greece and Italy — and to secure more deportation agreements with the countries migrants are originally from.

Meanwhile, anti-immigrant leaders, if capitalizing on the migration issue, are hardly unified. Italy wants to scrap the Dublin regulations, which stipulate that asylum seekers must stay in the European Union country in which they first register, and distribute migrants throughout the bloc. But hard-liners like Mr. Orban, Mr. Seehofer and Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz of Austria refuse to share Italy and Greece’s burden.

“Their proposals are fundamentally contradictory,” Mr. Knaus said. “Salvini and the Italians want to get rid of Dublin and share everyone throughout Europe. The Bavarians want to push everyone back to Austria. And Kurz says that’s fine — we’ll then send them to Italy and Hungary.”

And far away on Lampedusa, this makes the debate seem less about the specifics of migration management, and more about the widening chasm between liberal and illiberal forces in Europe.

It is “an ideological war,” said Mr. Martello, the mayor. “Europe is divided into two main blocs: One is defending the borders, and the other is actually doing something about the situation.”

via Migration to Europe Is Down Sharply. So Is It Still a ‘Crisis’? – The New York Times

Scrapping Safe Third Country deal may not lead to huge influx of asylum seekers

Contrasting views by two experts: Peter Showler, former head of the IRB, and Benn Proctor of the Canada Institute of the Wilson Centre, but more a difference in degree:

The Trump administration’s crackdown on asylum seekers has renewed calls by critics to scrap or suspend the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA); arguing that the U.S. is no longer a hospitable destination for refugee claimants.

But that raises the question about whether more asylum seekers would then come into Canada.

“The answer is that it’s speculative and no one knows,” said Peter Showler, former chair of the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) of Canada.

But, he adds: “I don’t think there’s a reasonable assumption that there would be a significant increase.”

Under the STCA, a person must make their refugee claim in the first, so-called “safe country” they reach. The premise of the deal was that since Canada and the U.S. share similar values, both are safe countries for those seeking refugee status.

It means those who first arrive in the U.S. and then seek entry to Canada to make a refugee claim will likely be turned back. (There are a few exceptions, for example, if the claimant has a family member in Canada.)

Legal loophole

Yet thousands of asylum seekers have recently crossed into Canada thanks to a loophole in the STCA, which applies only to those who try to enter by train, at airports or at official land border crossings. It doesn’t apply if — as so many people have in Quebec, Manitoba and elsewhere — one just walks across the border at some unofficial, unguarded spot.

Some suggest that scrapping the STCA would lead to more asylum seekers coming to Canada, because, that way, they could go to any official port of entry without the risk of being sent back to the U.S. or facing, what can be at times, a dangerous journey to cross the border, depending on the season and terrain.

Last year, more than 20,000 asylum seekers crossed illegally into Canada, according to the Canada Border Services Agency. (CBSA)

Trump has taken a hard stand against illegal immigrants, referring to them as “invaders.” His administration was slammed for the controversial policy of separating children from parents arrested for crossing illegally from Mexico. And on Monday, he said those caught crossing illegally should be immediately sent back without appearing before a judge.

His stance has sparked calls from human rights activists, refugee lawyers and Canadian politicians to scrap the STCA.

But Showler says there are approximately 11 million to 12 million illegal residents in the U.S. Many are fully aware of the relatively easy irregular or illegal ways to enter Canada, he said.

Yet despite Trump’s crackdown, there have not been huge increases of people crossing the border illegally, he said.

“That could have triggered a large movement toward Canada and it didn’t,” Showler said.

Many have established roots in the U.S., have been there for decades, have families, driver’s licences and Social Security cards and aren’t likely to come into Canada just because it would be easy, he said.

‘Moderate noticeable uptick’

In a report released last year, Fleeing to Canada on Foot: Reviewing the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, program associate Benn Proctor of the Canada Institute of the Wilson Centre, a global affairs think tank, ​noted that the agreement has “significantly reduced” the costs to Canada from processing claimants by dissuading applicants to come to Canada.

For example, in 2005, the year after STCA took effect, the CBSA reported that the number of claims made at the border dropped 54 per cent, from 8,904 to 4,041.

Proctor found that during the 11 years after STCA was implemented, Canada has processed an annual average of 22,839 asylum claims, 23 per cent fewer than the annual average of 29,682 claims processed between 1989 and
2004.

The OECD estimates a cost of $14,000 per asylum seeker, meaning the STCA may have reduced Canadian spending on asylum seekers by $2 billion over a 10-year period, he wrote.

(Those are first-year, or start-up costs only, he noted, and very quickly drop to near zero once refugees develop language skills and job placements.)

Since his report, however, Proctor said he has revised his thinking that there would be a huge influx of asylum seekers coming to Canada if the STCA was scrapped.

He said he now takes into account that — with the spread of information about safer places to cross the border illegally — it has become much easier to cross at these unofficial spots.

He expects a “moderate noticeable uptick” in the number of asylum claims if the STCA were scrapped.

“I would still say you expect to see more asylum claims coming from the U.S. if the Safe Third Country Agreement was disbanded or suspended. But originally I thought you would expect to see a lot more.”The increase of asylum claims would put more pressure on resources and exacerbate the problems with backlogs, he said.

Anna Pape, a spokeswoman for the IRB, said in an email that changes to the global environment have led to a “steady and significant increase in refugee claim referrals over the last few years” and resulted in a “growing backlog.”

As of April 30, 2018, there were more than 55,000 pending cases, and the projected wait time for claims for refugee protection before the board has increased to approximately 20 months, Pape said.

However, she said the IRB has improved its efficiency and that the number of refugee claims finalized has increased by approximately 40 per cent over the past year. She said the IRB projects to be able to finalize up to 2,500 refugee claims per month.

Source: Scrapping Safe Third Country deal may not lead to huge influx of asylum seekers

Canada’s Immigration Minister credits outreach efforts for drop in border crossers – The Globe and Mail

Encouraging, but too early to claim a trend and the relative impact of outreach versus other factors:

The Immigration Minister says a recent drop in the number of border crossers is a credit to the government’s efforts to discourage would-be asylum seekers from crossing into Canada between official border posts.

Ahmed Hussen said there was a 27-per-cent decrease in border crossers from 2,560 in April to 1,869 in May. He said unofficial figures show the decrease has continued into June.

However, Mr. Hussen said the federal government will continue its outreach efforts in the United States to discourage “irregular migration,” given the unpredictable nature of migrant flows at the border. It’s unclear what the Trump administration’s new immigration policy, which forcibly separates migrant children from their parents, will mean for Canada, which experienced a massive surge in asylum seekers along the border following an immigration crackdown in the United States last year.

“I sincerely believe that our outreach and other efforts … are having an impact in terms of the drop in numbers, but we remain vigilant. We are not letting up on our efforts and we’ll continue to do what we’ve been doing,” Mr. Hussen said in an exclusive interview with The Globe and Mail on Monday.

Last year, more than 20,000 asylum claimants – many of whom were Haitian – flooded the Canada-U.S. land border over fears they would be deported back to their home country under President Donald Trump’s plans to end their temporary protected status in the United States. In an attempt to control the surge in border crossers, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government launched an outreach campaign in the United States to discourage potential asylum seekers from irregularly crossing into Canada.

However, a new group of asylum seekers started to cross the Canada-U.S. border this year: Nigerians, carrying valid U.S. visas. Mr. Hussen and his officials traveled to Nigeria in May to dispel “myths” about Canada’s asylum system and raise the visa problem with the U.S. embassy in the West African country.

While Mr. Hussen attributed the decline in border crossers to the government’s outreach program, Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel warned against becoming complacent about the statistics. The number of border crossers has more than doubled since May, 2017, when 742 asylum seekers entered Canada between official ports of entry.

“That’s still a significant amount of people that are coming into the country by illegally crossing the border from the United States. That number should be closer to zero,” Ms. Rempel said.

Meanwhile, questions continue to swirl over how new U.S. immigration measures could affect Canada. Mr. Trump’s “zero-tolerance policy” has forcibly separated nearly 2,000 migrant children from their detained parents, according to Homeland Security statistics obtained by the Associated Press. Outrage over the policy is mounting around the globe, and on Monday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights urged the Trump administration to stop its “unconscionable” measures.

Ms. Rempel said the troubling reports out of the United States further underscore the need for a Canadian government plan to address the global migrant crisis. She questioned the Liberal government’s position on a major asylum-seeker agreement with the United States and, if it determines that the United States is no longer a safe country for refugees, to explain what the plan is to budget for the “enormous demand” that would be placed on Canada’s asylum system by another flood of border crossers.

The Safe Third Country Agreement requires both countries to refuse entry to asylum seekers who arrive at official border crossings, as both countries are considered safe for refugees. However, since the agreement applies only to people who arrive at official ports of entry, asylum seekers can avoid being turned away by crossing between border posts.

The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act requires the government to continually review all countries designated as safe third countries, including the United States, to ensure that the conditions that led to the designation are met.

In light of the new U.S. crackdown on migrants, NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said the need to suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement is more evident than ever.

“I don’t think anybody with some understanding of the international laws and with a level of humanity will accept that the United States is a safe country for refugees,” she said.

via Canada’s Immigration Minister credits outreach efforts for drop in border crossers – The Globe and Mail

Liberals risk new-Canadian vote with border-crossing response, say pollsters

Some relevant polling data – will see how these numbers shift or remain stable should the trend continue or change:
Politicians and the media are to blame for using needlessly alarmist language on the rise of asylum seekers, when the system has the capacity to manage, says a former Immigration and Refugee Board chair.

The Liberals have switched to more hardline messaging around asylum seekers, say pollsters and observers, as the government’s response has left it open to attack in the face of increasing irregular border crossings and charges from the Conservatives that the Grits are soft on border security.

Politically, the challenge and vulnerability for the Liberals is especially acute among first-generation and new-Canadian communities, said Jackie Choquette, vice-president at Hill+Knowlton Strategies, which both parties have been targeting and fighting over for several elections.

“That’s traditionally been a huge area of support for the Liberal Party,” said the former provincial Liberal staffer, and an area where they could lose votes.

The issue is starting to gain traction as opinions shift within that community, she said.

“That’s a more-difficult, nuanced conversation, I think, for the government to have and that’s why I think it’s the biggest vulnerability.”

Though the Conservatives have been accusing the Liberals of being weak along the border, Summa Strategies senior consultant Kate Harrison said the attack line that’s more “acutely felt” is “on the notion of queue jumping.”

In a move many saw as a way to court new Canadian votes ahead of the 2015 election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) promised to make family reunification easier for new immigrants to sponsor relatives coming to Canada.

Those “lofty promises” present a political vulnerability, Ms. Harrison said, as some families still wait for that to happen while hearing messages—accurate or not—that others get to jump the line.

“If they don’t make any progress on family reunification, a lot of those new Canadians that are already here and have family members that have been waiting to [come] here may grow very resentful,” said Ms. Harrison, a former Conservative Party staffer.

No party wants the discussion to devolve into “stoking resentment” within those communities, she said, but it has the danger of heading that way if parties aren’t careful.

All parties are “playing a careful dance” around how they frame the “tricky issue” because it “cuts to the very core of who we are as Canadians,” said Ms. Choquette, particularly as the country tends to pride itself on being welcoming.

Government shifts, sharpens message on asylum seekers

At committee and in Question Period last week, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale (Regina-Wascana, Sask.) responded to Conservative questions on what they’ve called “the border crossing crisis” by reiterating international obligations to refugees and stressing the government doesn’t think the situation is acceptable.

“Coming across the border in a way that tries to circumvent the law or defy proper procedure is no free ticket to Canada,” Mr. Goodale told reporters last week.

Observers saw that language from him and other officials as a very different, more stern approach. It was also a necessary shift following documents that showed Mr. Trudeau’s tweet from January 2017 welcoming “those fleeing persecution, terror [and] war,” caused confusion among officials and a flood of inquiries.

Angus Reid Institute executive director Shachi Kurl said there are a couple of outstanding questions.

“We’ve seen that message sharpened in the last little while, but is it enough? Is it enough practically and is it perceived to be enough in the minds of Canadians?” she said, adding the firm plans to poll soon on this issue again.

In a September poll following a summer spike in irregular crossings, Angus Reid found 53 per cent of respondents said the country has been “too generous” to the border crossers.

“I think there’s a narrative—which is not necessarily an accurate narrative—that Canada is an endlessly welcoming and generous country,” she said, but the polls show that’s not the case.

“As we see more individuals arriving at the border I think if anything that concern is only heightened, not lessened,” she said, adding the same goes for general awareness of the issue. “For those who are concerned, they are unlikely to have seen anything in terms of a change of approach that will have lessened or alleviate those concerns.”

‘Alarmist’ language a problem: former IRB chair

Because Canada and the United States are part of the Safe Third Country Agreement, people who cross from the U.S. at regular points of entry along the border or at airports aren’t able claim refugee status. The same does not apply at unofficial entry points, prompting the Conservatives to call on the Liberals to suspend the agreement.

Mr. Goodale has said the government broached the subject and is having “exploratory” talks with the U.S.

The latest government numbers show 2,560 such entries in April—a 30 per cent increase over the previous month. There were 20,593 irregular crossings from the United States in 2017 and have remained above 1,500 crossings a month since July 2017. The vast majority of those crossings are through Quebec, which observers note is a strategically important province politically in which the Liberals are pouring resources and where Conservative leader Andrew Scheer (Regina–Qu’Appelle, Sask.) has recently spent time courting disenchanted Bloc Québécois supporters. While the Liberals still lead the pack, a new poll showed the Tories are making gains in the province.

Source: Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada

That uptick in border crossings “is only an increase compared to the unusually low numbers of claims in the past few years,” according to the Canadian Council for refugees.

The average number of refugee claims between 2013 and 2015 was 13,300 per year but between 2000 and 2009, it was an annual average of 31,400, the council said, arguing the case could be made that Canada is “returning to more usual numbers.”

Both the “loose language” and discussion around numbers from media and politicians has been “alarmist,” said Peter Showler, former chair of the Immigration and Refugee Board.

“It’s a kind of Chicken Little reporting on the numbers as though … the sky is going to fall,” he said. “The sky hasn’t fallen.”

The claims that came through in the last year “are well within the capacity of the Canadian refugee system,” he said, though agreed it requires more resources.

Part of the problem, he said, is use of the word “illegal” rather than “irregular” in discussing the kind of crossing.

The NDP has also raised this concern, that people have a right to seek protection and there are specific laws and processes in place to determine if someone falls within Canada’s definition of refugee.

The focus instead should be on protection and the legal rights of entrants, Showler said. And just because a claim is determined not to fall within Canada’s definition of refugee, that doesn’t make them fraudulent.

Most importantly, he noted the acceptance rates currently are approximately the same as those of the national average for refugee claims.

“It means that the significant majority of people who are seeking Canada’s protection, the Immigration Refugee Board has reached the conclusion that they are in need of protection,” said Mr. Showler, adding the rate is for the last two to three years is about 65 to 70 per cent—”which historically is quite high.”

Canadians should have a better understanding of the distinct refugee flows, he said, and the impact of U.S. President Donald Trump and his government’s pronouncements, including an executive order last year banning refugees and visitors from Muslim-majority countries.

Last year, many coming to Canada were from Haiti and feared deportation as Mr. Trump announced the 2019 end of the temporary residency program set up to take in those seeking refuge from the 2010 earthquake, he noted. Canada has already ended a similar program. More recently, arrivals are originally from Nigeria and head north soon after they land in the U.S., leading Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen (York South–Weston, Ont.) to travel to Nigeria this week to meet with officials on the ground.

For the most part, pollsters say opinions on refugees are polarized along political lines, with Conservative voters more likely to say the country is being too generous to asylum seekers.

Pushing border security and painting the Liberals as soft may produce “modest gains” for the Tories but it’s not a strategy that will dramatically increase their support, said Frank Graves, president of EKOS Research Associates.

However, it can provide emotional energy for motivating their base, he said, which are “far more concerned” about the issue.

“Frankly, elections are won on emotional engagement,” he said, and the approach can bring out committed supporters, which can produce higher turnout, better fundraising, and more involvement.

Even so, Mr. Graves said he doesn’t see this issue as “a huge exposed flank” for the government while Ms. Choquette said the Liberals still need a win on the file.

“They need to make a measurable difference on one aspect of this issue, even if it’s a small aspect,” she said, though there’s no easy solution. “The potential for this issue is it hurts them with a number of key constituencies that they rely on or will need to rely on in 2019. They’re running out of time.”

via Liberals risk new-Canadian vote with border-crossing response, say pollsters – The Hill Times