Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada remains welcoming to newcomers even as his government takes steps to curb the influx of asylum seekers coming into the country at unofficial entry points.
Speaking at a news conference in Mississauga, Ont., on Thursday, the prime minister said Canadians continue to be “overwhelmingly in favour” of immigration even though the issue has become “politically charged” here and south of the border.
“One of the reasons Canadians do have confidence in immigration as a positive force in our country is because they have confidence in our immigration system,” he said.
“We are dealing with larger than usual numbers and have had to make investments to account for that but the integrity of our immigration system continues to hold.”
More than 40,000 people have crossed into Canada on foot through fields and forests since 2017.
Trudeau’s comments come days after his government presented a budget that includes a new border-enforcement strategy aimed at detecting, intercepting and removing irregular migrants.
The plan, which is expected to cost $1.18 billion over five years, includes more funding for the Canada Border Services Agency and the RCMP to beef up enforcement at the border, as well as money to speed up the processing of asylum claims.
Some provinces, particularly Quebec and Ontario, have called on Ottawa to reimburse them for hundreds of millions of dollars in housing and other expenses they say have been incurred in accommodating the flow of asylum seekers.
The budget did not set aside money for provincial immigration costs, but Trudeau said Thursday his government will continue to work with provinces and municipalities to relieve that pressure.
Meanwhile, Border Security Minister Bill Blair said over the weekend he was in talks with lawmakers in the United States to close a loophole in Canada’s border agreement with the U.S. that some say encourages asylum seekers to avoid official checkpoints.
Under the Safe Third Country Agreement, asylum seekers can’t claim refugee status in Canada if they arrive at an official border crossing from a country deemed to be safe, such as the U.S. – but they can do so from inside Canada.
Blair has said that extending the agreement to those who cross irregularly from the U.S. could help remove the incentive.