OTTAWA — As an influx of illegal border crossings by asylum seekers continues to cause pressures in Quebec, the issue is creating mounting tensions between the Liberals and Conservatives in the House of Commons.
The Trudeau Liberals and the Opposition Conservatives blamed each other Tuesday for problems caused by a spike in refugee claimants entering Canada illegally from the U.S. — an influx that does not appear to be slowing down.
"This has been an issue for well over a year, but this prime minister has failed to take any concrete steps to address the situation," Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said.
"Meanwhile, families here in Canada who are waiting to be reunited with a loved one or refugees facing real danger have to wait longer because of the government's inaction. Why?"
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau countered that lengthy delays for processing refugee claims were caused by a cut in funding to the Canada Border Services Agency by the former Conservative administration of Stephen Harper.
"I think people will be forgiven for rolling their eyes when the Conservatives talk about supporting refugees or accelerating process for family reunification. Their cuts left us with significant backlogs," Trudeau said.
"They tried to get rid of backlogs by using the delete button."
The issue dominated Tuesday's debate in the Commons, thanks to an Opposition day motion from the Conservatives calling for a plan to be tabled by May 11 to stop the flow of border crossers coming into Canada at unofficial entry points in Quebec and Ontario.
Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel accused the government of simply throwing money at the problem of irregular migration rather than coming up with a demonstrable plan to make it stop.
"This is the second summer that we're going into a potential immigration crisis without a plan, and certainly we expect the government to do better."
Last year, RCMP intercepted a total of 20,493 people who crossed the border illegally. So far this year, 6,373 irregular migrants have arrived in Canada this way — more than double the 2,784 irregular migrants who arrived in Canada between January and April 2017.
This influx has caused a "clearly unsustainable" backlog of files at the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), according to documents obtained by The Canadian Press through access-to-information legislation.
The documents show the arms-length body responsible for adjudicating asylum claims has been struggling to deal with the massive influx of files. A response team was initiated last year to cope with the increased workload and long wait times. But without additional resources, the IRB's streaming processes and improvements were swallowed by the increase in cases.
The number of claims reached record levels in 2017 and the IRB's backlog tripled from fewer than 15,000 cases in 2015 to over 50,000 by the end of 2017.
The government has said it is working to ease pressures caused by the surge in asylum claims, including dedicating $74 million this year to help reduce backlogs at the IRB. New spending has also been allocated for the agencies that deal with irregular migrants at the border, including $72 million over two years for the Canada Border Services Agency, $10 million over one year for the RCMP and $2 million over one year to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
But Rempel said none of these financial measures appear to be stopping asylum seekers from continuing to stream into Canada. She said she's concerned the public's support for immigration and newcomers could turn if nothing is done to stop the flow of illegal border crossings.
Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press