By Anna Mehler Paperny
TORONTO – Canada must do a better job of communicating that asylum seekers are not a threat to the country, the parliamentarian charged with dealing with the refugee influx told Reuters.
The comments by Bill Blair are a tacit admission by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government that it has fumbled its message on the hot-button migration issue ahead of next year’s federal election.
The government has come under fire from voters and political opponents but has chalked up the popular opposition to misinformation.
“We need to do a better job of communicating … I think that’s one of my responsibilities, to explain to people, to reassure them that asylum seekers pose no risk to their community,” Blair said in an interview on Thursday.
Blair was named minister of border security last month.
More than 30,000 people have illegally crossed the Canada-U.S. border to file refugee claims in Canada since January, 2017, according to government figures, though the numbers dropped in May and June..
Many of them have told Reuters they did not feel safe filing or pursuing refugee claims in President Donald Trump’s United States.
Canada and the United States have an agreement under which asylum seekers trying to cross at ports of entry are turned around and told to apply in the country in which they arrived. People have crossed between those formal crossings, where the agreement does not apply.
For months Canada has sought U.S. consent to amend the agreement so that it applies across the entire border, allowing Canada to turn back thousands of asylum seekers, but with little success.
“So far there hasn’t been a strong indication from them that they wish to engage with us on that issue,” Blair said.
Police dispersed anti-migrant protesters earlier this week in a Toronto-area city; an Angus-Reid poll released on Friday found that the majority of Canadians surveyed consider the border-crosser issue a “crisis” and the plurality believe Trudeau’s opponent, Andrew Scheer, could handle it better.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp on Friday that “we do need to make it very clear that this situation is being thoroughly and properly dealt with.”
The opposition Conservatives on Friday slammed what they characterized as inaction on the part of the Liberal government. “The Prime Minister has only made the situation worse,” parliamentarian and Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel said in a statement.
(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto Additional reporting from David Ljunggren in Ottawa Editing by Matthew Lewis)