Categorized | Canadian Politics

Bill Blair apologizes, corrects remark saying ‘overwhelming majority’ of asylum seekers have left

Posted on 03 October 2018 by admin

Border Security Minister Bill Blair has apologized and corrected a statement he made last week claiming most asylum seekers who crossed the border in a surge last year have left the country.

In an interview that aired on Sunday with The West Block, Blair was asked about how the government has been working to deal with the surge of more than 32,000 migrants who have walked across the border over the last year and a half to make asylum claims in Canada, and whether the government knows where all of them are now.

Despite data from the Canadian Border Services Agency indicating only 398 of the 32,173 people who crossed the U.S. border irregularly into Canada between April 2017 and August 2018 had actually been deported, Blair stated the opposite.

“I will tell you that we did experience a surge of people last year,” Blair told The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson.

“We found a very small percentage of them were actually eligible to stay, and the overwhelming majority of those people have left.”

 “Minister Blair would like to clarify that he was referring to a small cohort of failed claimant asylum seekers,” said press secretary Marie-Emmanuelle Cadieux.

Blair’s apology from his tweet was included below that in the press release.

“I clearly misspoke in suggesting the majority who arrived last year have left. They have not. They await disposition of their claim. Sorry for the obvious confusion that I caused,” Blair said.

Cadieux said he was referring to people who had “left the Lacolle facility.”

When asked to provide numbers that demonstrated that, Cadieux quoted numbers from the Canada Border Services Agency saying that the number of irregular migrant removals in 2017/2018 was 240 and the removals in 2018/2019 were 214.

Of those, she said, the irregular/failed claimant removal subset stood at 125 and 127 in those same years.

“Note that not all those who have arrived in recent years have finished their processes that would ultimately lead to a removal,” she wrote in an email.

“This is what the minister is referring to when he says the ‘the overwhelming majority of those people have left.’ The others are still going through the process.”

However, the response and the minister’s remarks prompted a swift backlash from critics online.

The issue of how to handle irregular border crossings has been a lightning rod between Liberals and Conservatives over the past year and a half.

Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel has repeatedly accused the government of not having a plan to deal with the surge, which has come amid an increasingly anti-immigrant climate in the United States.

Rempel has also called for the government to negotiate with the U.S. to apply the Safe Third Country Agreement to the entire border.

That agreement between Canada and the U.S. essentially states that both countries recognize each other as safe countries for people to make asylum claims and as a result, each will not consider claims made from someone who first lands in Canada, for example, but then decides to try to make a claim in the U.S.

However, that agreement only applies to migrants who attempt to cross the border at official checkpoints.

Irregular crossers, once intercepted by RCMP after crossing at unofficial points along the border, can make an asylum claim despite crossing from the U.S.

That loophole has been a major source of criticism since the surge began, and Blair told the House of Commons last week he has made attempts to discuss the matter with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

In late August, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was heckled during an event in Quebec by a woman asking him when the federal government would reimburse the provincial government for the costs of dealing with the irregular migrants.

He accused her of “intolerance.”

When she confronted him a second time following the event to ask whether he respects “true stock Quebecois,” he told her, “your racism has no place here.”

Trudeau was unapologetic for his accusations when questioned about them afterwards.

“I will not flinch from highlighting when the politics of division, of fear, of spreading misinformation is actually harming the fabric of this country,” he said.

“The fact is, we have a situation where there are irregular arrivals coming across our border into Canada … People who are trying to make this sound like a crisis are playing exactly the politics of fear and intolerance.”

 

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