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RCMP officers stand on a hill looking over the U.S.-Canada border in Hemmingford, Que., on Feb. 14, 2017. (CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/REUTERS)
RCMP officers stand on a hill looking over the U.S.-Canada border in Hemmingford, Que., on Feb. 14, 2017. (CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/REUTERS)

Illegal border crossers arrested this year nearly half of all caught in 2016 Add to ...

Data released Tuesday shows that the RCMP have arrested nearly half as many illegal border crossers in three Canadian provinces this year as they did in all of 2016.

Figures provided by the federal government show that in the first two months of this year, the RCMP intercepted 1,134 people — 677 were in Quebec, 161 in Manitoba, 291 in British Columbia and five in Saskatchewan.

Statistics previously provided by the Immigration Department had revealed 2,464 were apprehended in 2016 at three unofficial crossing points in Quebec, Manitoba and B.C.

Of those stopped in 2017, 476 were arrested in January and 658 in February, an increase that prompted renewed attention from the Opposition on Tuesday.

“Canadians are tired of the Liberals inaction and denial. Where is the plan?” said Conservative public safety critic Tony Clement.

“When will the Liberals finally take action and regain control of our borders?”

Public Safety Minister Goodale said the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency have all the resources they need and all laws are being enforced.

“We’re watching it very carefully and doing the contingency planning based on a number of factors that may change in the weeks and months ahead to try as best we can to anticipate what may happen in the future and to be ready for it when it does arrive and if it does,” he said.

While the RCMP arrests illegal border crossers, how many of them actually go on to lodge asylum claims in Canada is hard to track. Processing asylum claims is the work of the CBSA and the Immigration Department and in their statistics they don’t separate out how an asylum seeker arrives.

The difference in the statistical approaches has created confusion around the extent of the illegal border crossing issue and where it fits in the overall number of asylum claims being filed in Canada, which is what prompted the data release on Tuesday.

In the first two months of this year, 5,520 claims for asylum have been filed in Canada, compared to 23,895 for all of last year, according to figures released.

Also difficult will be tracking what happens to those who crossed illegally. The Immigration and Refugee Board, which will decide their claims, doesn’t break down decisions on the basis of how an asylum seeker arrived, because it doesn’t factor into a determination on their asylum claim.

A spokesman for Goodale says the data released Tuesday will now be updated monthly in a bid to provide clear and consistent figures. The government is so far declining to release historical figures on interceptions prior to 2016.

What’s driving the asylum seekers into Canada has been the subject of intense debate.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen told MPs Monday that a deeper dive into the backgrounds of those crossing between official ports of entry suggests the political atmosphere in the U.S. isn’t to blame.

In Emerson, Man., where 142 people were apprehended in February, 65 were from Somalia and 60 from Djibouti.

Of the 60 from Djibouti, 49 held valid U.S. visas which had been issued only a few months prior, suggesting they’d intended to use the U.S. as a way point to get into Canada.

“This is definitely not specific to the incoming U.S. administration,” Hussen said.

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