More officers needed on Canada's 'Swiss cheese' border: Union
OTTAWA -- The union representing border officers says Canada should create a 300-person team to patrol the areas between official ports of entry, comparing the current situation to "swiss cheese."
Jean-Pierre Fortin, president of the Customs and Immigration Union, says he's hearing from his members that the number of illegal crossings is higher than what officials admit publicly.
"The frontline officers are actually the ones giving me the numbers and they're slightly different. They're higher right now," he said in an interview with Evan Solomon, host of CTV's Question Period.
Internal numbers from the Canada Border Services Agency, provided to CTV News, show 382 people made asylum claims around the Lacolle border crossing in January, 2017.
CBSA told CTV News there were 454 asylum claims made in the entire province of Quebec in January 2017 and 411 made from Feb. 1 to 21.
On Thursday, CBSA officials told reporters that there were 290 illegal border crossings in Quebec from Jan. 1, 2017 to Feb. 21.
Illegal border crossings and asylum claims are separate but related issues, since most migrants crossing the border from the U.S. into Canada can't make asylum claims at official ports of entry. Under the 2004 Safe Third Country agreement, prospective asylum claimants coming from the U.S. are turned away.
That suggests most of those who have made asylum claims crossed illegally into Canada.
Canada is a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees, obliging the country to hear all asylum claims filed by people already inside Canadian territory. That's led some migrants to cross the border illegally between ports of entry in order to make their claim.
There are some exceptions that would allow someone coming from the U.S. to make a refugee claim at a port of entry, including if they have a close family member already living in Canada or if they are an unaccompanied minor, a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told CTV News.
Fortin says to properly protect the border from illegal crossings -- those not done at official ports of entry -- his union would like to see the government reinstate 1,053 jobs cut by the previous government. He would also like to see the government change its policy so border officers can chase anyone who crosses without going through a port of entry. He says right now CBSA has to call in the RCMP.
"We're not even allowed to chase them," Fortin said.
"The RCMP doesn't have the resources and what we're asking the government at this point in time, we want to make sure that we should be closing that gap. We should have border guards actually patrolling these [areas]."
In an email to CTV News, Goodale's spokesman said the RCMP has been in charge of enforcing the border between ports of entry since 1932.
"CBSA operational policy restricts enforcement between ports of entry and directs officers to refer to their local RCMP detachment in cases of suspected violations," Scott Bardsley wrote.
"The RCMP and CBSA are enforcing the law. They're enforcing it well and to the letter. At the moment, they are sufficiently staffed to handle the volume. Should more resources be required, they will let us know."
On Saturday, Goodale visited Emerson, Man. – a small border community that has seen a large influx of illicit border crossings in recent weeks.
During a news conference, Goodale told reporters the federal government is willing to allocate more resources to help deal with the increase of U.S. asylum-seekers.
"The key thing is to make sure that our agencies on the ground ... have the resources necessary to do the job. At the moment, they are properly resourced, but we are monitoring that very carefully as we go forward," he said.
Goodale also announced $30,000 to cover extra costs incurred by Emerson-Franklin's volunteer fire department and other agencies in the community, adding that more will be made available.
Fortin questioned why officials are hesitant to call a series of increases in illegal border crossings a trend. The 382 asylum claims in January 2017, is more than three times the number in January 2016.
"Since last November up to now, there's a clear trend. It's climbing. It's going up," he said.
The current spike is still lower than another influx in 2008, as well as another surge in 2001, Bardsley said, noting it's too early for a proper analysis.