Blair says Tories ‘fear-mongering’ on immigration as feds move to toughen asylum laws
Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair on CTV's Question Period.
Published Saturday, April 13, 2019 7:00AM EDT
Border Security Minister Bill Blair isn't backing down on Liberal claims that Conservatives are "fear-mongering" on the immigration file, even as his own government comes under fire from refugee advocates who say proposed changes would strip asylum seekers' rights.
He made the comments during an interview with Evan Solomon on CTV Question Period, airing Sunday.
"What we heard from some of the Conservative critics was fear-mongering and an attempt to characterize these individuals somehow [as] a risk to the safety and security of Canada," Blair said. "It's mostly kids, Evan. Forty per cent of the people crossing are children."
However, as Blair continues his criticism, the Liberals are facing pushback from groups who work with refugees over a proposed change they say could tread on refugee rights.
The proposed legislation in question was folded into the pages of the government's omnibus budget bill. It would establish new sources of ineligibility for asylum seekers, who would not be entitled to have their claims heard if they had opened an asylum claim in another country, had already made an unsuccessful bid in Canada, had a claim rejected due to criminal records or had already had a claim accepted in another country.
People who work with refugees have warned that the changes would strip human rights protections from vulnerable refugee claimants, according to reporting from The Canadian Press.
The move has also got Conservatives calling for a change in tone from the government.
"How do you roll back the accusations that have been made continuously against Conservatives and anybody who indicated that they were uncomfortable by the way in which this was rolling out," said Conservative Deputy Leader Lisa Raitt on an episode of CTV Question Period, airing Sunday.
"Clearly they've heard the messages that we've been hearing from our constituents for the past two and a half years that there's great concern about the method by which people are coming across the border in the non-border entry points."
Blair said he's critical of the Conservatives painting the situation as a "safety issue." There is no safety issue, Blair said, but rather a "fairness issue."
"We have a responsibility to Canadians to ensure that the system is managed in an efficient and fair way, so we've been taking steps to encourage people to cross at a regular point of entry and not to do it irregularly," he said.
Blair also spoke to concerns that the proposed change would mean people like Seidu Mohammed, who had an asylum claim rejected in the United States before coming to Canada, would now lose the chance to be heard. Mohammed, who fled Ghana for fear of persecution over his bisexuality, lost fingers to frostbite as he crossed the border from the United States to Canada.
Blair said the government will still undertake a "pre- removal risk assessment" for individuals like Mohammed.
"If it's determined that they're at risk, they will receive Canada's protection," Blair said.
Blair doesn't rule out handgun ban
Blair is also tasked with the government's consideration of a contentious handgun ban.
The government launched consultations in October last year to consider how best to reduce firearm-related violent crime. Blair released his summary of the talks on Thursday, but he didn't reveal what – if any – changes Canadians can expect as a result of the consultations.
"I am quite prepared to make recommendations to take measures which will be effective in protecting Canadians and keeping them safe," Blair said.
He hinted that these measures could touch on the secure storage of guns and detecting and deterring illegal gun sales.
When pressed on whether changes would include a handgun ban, Blair kept mum – but he didn't rule it out.
"There is no measure that I am afraid to consider," he said. "I am open to considering any measure that will be effective in keeping Canadians safe."
Blair confident legal cannabis will displace black market
The former Toronto police chief has been overseeing the rollout of legal cannabis across the country amid criticism that the high price tag has simmered its impact on the black market. Blair, however, says he remains confident in the government's plan.
"In time, I have absolute confidence that we'll be able to displace the illicit market and keep our community safer," he said.
Blair also displaced some of the blame onto the provinces for pricing issues and slow rollout.
"The federal government has not set the price, the price is being set by the market. The provinces and territories have a responsibility to set up and regulate a retail environment. Some of them have made significant progress, others…perhaps have a little more work to do to," Blair said.
He pointed to Ontario as an example of a province that might need to do a bit more work. He said the shortage of stores in the province is impeding access and convenience for pot purchasers.
However, Blair remained optimistic.
"As [provinces] continue to progress and as more and more retail opportunities are available for Canadian consumers, I have great confidence people will make the right choice," he said.