OTTAWA -- Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale is taking on Conservative Party criticism that the government needs to do more at the border to prevent asylum seekers from crossing into Canada.

A surge in illegal crossings since the end of 2016 has raised concerns over an influx of refugee claimants in small towns like Emerson, Man., and near the Lacolle border crossing in Quebec. Conservative MPs have urged the Liberal government to "enforce the law," but won't explain what further measures they want the government to take.

"I guess what the Conservatives are saying is maybe we should line up the RCMP at the border, they should all link arms and shoo people away, or maybe [use] fire hoses or whatever, to keep people from crossing at the border," Goodale said in an interview with Evan Solomon, host of CTV's Question Period.

"The fact of the matter is if someone comes across the border, and finds themselves in Canada, and claims asylum... when they're here, they're here. And according to Canadian law, and according to international law, we have to deal with those people in a certain way," he said.

Goodale and Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen say those who are caught crossing illegally are arrested by the RCMP, taken to an official border crossing, known as a port of entry, and questioned by the Canada Border Services Agency to establish who they are.

Canada and the U.S. have a Safe Third Country Agreement that blocks asylum seekers in either country from making a claim in the other. But it only applies at official ports of entry, where claimants will be turned away if they attempt a claim.

Under the UN Convention on Refugees, anyone inside Canada who makes a refugee claim has to have a hearing. That's led some claimants to cross illegally so they're in the country before making their claim, rather than use an official crossing and be turned back to the U.S. before they can make a claim.

It's also tricky to ask U.S. officials to prevent migrants from crossing into Canada, Goodale pointed out.

"If these people are in the United States legally, there is no legal jurisdiction in the United States to interfere with their movement, as long as they're not breaking any American law," he said.

While Canada is seeing an upswing in illegal border crossings, it's not an historic high. Hussen has resisted calling the surge a trend, and Goodale agrees Canada doesn't yet have enough information about the issue.

"We don't have the absolute answers yet. It's undoubtedly a combination of factors and not every motive is driving all the people in exactly the same way," he said.

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