OTTAWA — The number of people intercepted by the RCMP as they crossed into Canada between official border points fell in 2019, newly released federal figures show, but overall, the number of asylum claims being lodged in this country is up.
The data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada reveal that in all of 2019, the RCMP stopped 16,503 people as they came into Canada from the U.S. using informal entry points, such as the Roxham Road crossing between New York and Quebec.
That’s down from 19,419 the year before, and 20,593 the year before that.
In total, however, there were 63,830 claims for asylum filed in Canada in 2019, up from 55,040 in 2018, and 50,390 the year prior.
The data highlights the fact that despite multiple efforts by the Liberal government — including dispatching politicians and bureaucrats around the globe specifically to discourage border-crossers — the flow of people continues largely unabated.
“Canada is continuing to experience unprecedented volumes of asylum claims, resulting in backlogs across the in-Canada asylum system and significant costs to all levels of government,” reads a briefing note prepared for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino in November and published online this month.
The issue at the border is linked to a deal with the United States, which among other things precludes people from requesting refugee status at normal border offices, on the premise that someone who is in the U.S. is already safe. Thousands have begun coming into Canada at points where they can avoid that requirement, and then can claim asylum once they are in the country.
The Liberals have repeatedly promised efforts to update the agreement, and in the mandate letter for Mendicino, he is tasked with taking on “continued work with the United States to modernize the Safe Third Country Agreement.”
But, the briefing notes — prepared in anticipation of the minister being asked about the issue in the House of Commons — suggest that work is limited.
“At this time, Canada and the United States have not entered into formal negotiations on the STCA,” reads a question-period note provided to the minister on Dec. 6.
If he’d been pressed on how the U.S. was responding to requests to discuss the deal, the department suggested this response:
“As Canada cannot unilaterally change the terms of this bilateral agreement, it would be inappropriate to speculate on how any possible changes might be implemented.”
A Federal Court judge is now deciding whether the deal violates the charter rights of asylum seekers, after a court hearing on the subject late last fall.
A decision is expected within the year.
The briefing note says the overall volume of claims is rising due to increases in the number of asylum-seekers from India, Mexico and Iran.
An increase in Mexican claims is related to a decision by the Liberal government to lift a visa requirement for Mexican nationals to enter Canada, a move that was expected to increase the number of refugee applications, while the increase from Iran has been tied in the past to people seeking to get around long delays in applications for permanent residency.
The 2019 federal budget allocated $1.18 billion over five years, and $55 million a year after that, to increase the asylum system’s capacity.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 16, 2020.