OTTAWA--The continuing debate over irregular border crossings could hurt the Liberal government, a new poll suggests.

The Angus Reid Institute survey found 67 per cent of respondents say the situation is a crisis, while 33 per cent said the situation is being overblown by politicians and the media. Respondents are highly aware of the issue, with 70 per cent saying they're either "discussing it with family and friends" or "having the odd conversation" about it.

But nearly half of those polled over-estimated the number of people who have crossed the Canadian border outside an official point of entry recently. Forty-eight per cent estimated more than 50,000 people have crossed irregularly since 2017, with 15 per cent estimating the number at more than 100,000, when government statistics show it's closer to 31,000.

The Angus Reid Institute conducted the survey online from July 25 to 30, 2018, among a members of its Angus Reid Forum. The organization says it chose a representative randomized sample of 1,500 Canadian adults. Margin of error can't be calculated for online surveys, but a probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, Angus Reid Institute says.

The poll also found 48 per cent of respondents most trust Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer to handle the issue, including 30 per cent of those who say they voted Liberal in the last federal election, and 24 per cent of those who say they voted NDP.

Speaking in Toronto, Minister of Border Security Bill Blair said there has been "a lot of misinformation" about the issue of asylum claimants.

"We have a responsibility to make sure that Canadians have a clear understanding of what exactly is transpiring," he said.

"Unfortunately Canadians have a misperception of the number of people coming and the circumstances under which they're coming... It is important that we address many of the misconceptions and misinformation that Canadians have heard that quite frankly causes a fear. A fear not based on the reality, but a fear of the rhetoric."

Number of irregular crossings dropping

The poll was released the same morning Blair announced $11 million to help Toronto deal with the influx of asylum seekers in the city. It's part of a $50 million pledge, announced June 1, to assist the provinces and towns bearing the majority of the costs of the increase.

A news release about the funding noted it was required "after the Province of Ontario chose to withdraw from its jurisdictional responsibility around housing."

The federal government says it's working with city officials throughout Ontario to plan for a triage system to "manage flows and ensure that asylum seekers are able to be housed in municipalities that have the capacity to do so." It says it's seeking longer-term solutions.

The number of irregular border crossers dropped in June for the second month in a row and was the lowest in the last year, the federal government says.

Canada has seen an increase in the number of asylum seekers who enter from the U.S. somewhere other than an official point of entry, like a land border crossing or airport. Many have crossed on foot in Quebec. Under Canada's Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S., asylum seekers have to make their claims in the first country in which they land and would be turned back to the U.S. if they appeared at an official entry point.

Once they are in Canada, however, they are entitled to go through the asylum claim process, leading many to cross "irregularly" or between official entry points.

Upon being told the number of irregular crossers is close to 30,000, 65 per cent of respondents told the Angus Reid Institute that is too many for Canada to handle. Six per cent said it's a small number and Canada can handle more, and 29 per cent said it's a manageable number.

Even among NDP and Liberal voters, more than half said it's too many people for Canada to handle. Among Conservative voters, 84 per cent said the current number is too high. More than half of respondents with a university education or higher said it's too many to handle, while 73 per cent of those with high school education or less said it's too many.

More than half of respondents - 58 per cent - said Canada is too generous to those who cross the border illegally. That's up from 53 per cent who felt that way last year.

Earlier this week, Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel pointed to Canada Border Services Agency information provided to the House citizenship committee to argue the issue is getting worse. CBSA says in the submission that its officers report irregular asylum claimants are "acting as an 'anchor relative' for other qualifying family members," according to a document excerpt she tweeted.

"These family members can present themselves at a port of entry and not be considered as irregular migrants. Also they can't be refused entry under the Safe Third Country Agreement," CBSA said in the committee submission.

A spokesman for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says there are no statistics showing an increasing number of people using the anchor relatives exemption. CBSA doesn't collect specific data regarding anchor relatives or other exemptions.

"The data does not support the claim that there is a trend of increased 'anchor relatives' being used to get around the Safe Third Country Agreement. In fact, it shows that there are fewer asylum claimants using these exemptions to enter Canada," Scott Bardsley wrote in an email to CTV News.

The exemption was created in order to keep families together if they were separated before entering Canada.