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Border crossers: most Canadians don't believe government has a clear plan

Last Updated Jul 8, 2018 at 6:08 pm EDT

A family, claiming to be from Columbia, gets set to cross the border into Canada from the United States as asylum seekers on Wednesday, April 18, 2018 near Champlain, NY. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Most Canadians don’t believe the country has a definitive plan on how to deal with the recent influx of asylum seekers crossing the border into the country, according to a new poll by DART Insight.

In 2017, Canada received 47,800 official asylum claims, making it the ninth-largest recipient in the world that year. Further, an estimated 5000 asylum seekers arrived through unofficial entry points between Jan 1, 2017 and March 31, 2018.

The poll shows that 70 percent of Canadians feel the federal government has no clear direction on how to handle this growing number of people “who make an asylum claim following an irregular entry through unofficial entry points” — such as walking across from the United States into Canada at any point along the border.

Alberta showed the most doubt, with only 22 per cent of poll participants responding they felt the government does have a clear plan. Ontario and Atlantic Canada expressed the most confidence, with 35 per cent of poll participants in each region indicating they believe the government has a clear plan in place to deal with the situation.

In addition, 58 per cent of Canadians don’t feel the government has handled the entire situation well, overall.

As per the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States, asylum claimants cannot simply be turned back or deported even if they cross the border at unofficial entry points. They must undergo due process — which can take several months to complete.

In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford said the province should not be paying for such processing.

“This mess was 100 per cent the result of the federal government, and the federal government should foot 100 per cent of the bills.” he said, in a statement released just prior to his first meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

In response, Trudeau suggested Ford may not fully understand Canada’s international obligations when it comes to asylum seekers.

“At the same time I agreed that it would be good for our officials to sit down and get clarity on how we can actually work together to ensure that we are holding true to our values but making sure that our immigration and refugee system is being applied in its integrity,” Trudeau said.

Toronto Mayor John Tory also recently called upon the federal government for financial help to deal with the growing number of asylum seekers in the city’s shelter system.

The federal government recently pledged to give Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba a total of $50 million to help offset some of the costs, but the provinces have asked for much more support.

Quebec, which has seen the bulk of asylum seekers arrive in 2018, has said its costs are closer to $146 million, a tally that includes projections for future expenses. Ontario has been promised $11 million by the federal government, but Mayor John Tory has said that Toronto alone needs $64 million to recoup costs.

The DART Insight poll shows that 57 percent of Canadians agree that the federal government isn’t providing the right amount of resources for communities to deal with the processing and management of refugee claimants.

Premier Ford has blamed the federal government and its immigration policies for putting a strain on local and provincial resources. He also claimed that the Trudeau administration encouraged people to cross into Canada illegally.

According to the poll, a majority of Canadians feel the government is not categorically deterring would-be asylum seekers from crossing the border.

58 per cent of poll participants from across the country don’t believe the government is sending a clear signal to would-be asylum seekers that there is no guarantee they will be able to stay in Canada.

Regardless of how people felt about asylum seekers and how the authorities are handling the situation, 84 per cent of Canadians believe the federal government is ensuring asylum seekers are treated humanely.

See the full results of the survey organized by province below:

For full results click here.

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The DART Insight survey was conducted among 5,357 randomly selected Canadian adults who are members of the Maru/Blue Online panel. The precision of this DART Insight Online poll is measured using a Bayesian Credibility Interval. In this case, the poll is accurate to within +/ – 1.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadian adults been polled. Minor discrepancies in the data may occur due to rounding.

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With files from The Canadian Press