For the first time since January, the number of people crossing the Canada-U.S. border between legal checkpoints seems to be falling, according to the latest government numbers.
Between May 1 and May 22, Ottawa says 1,363 migrants were intercepted by the RCMP after crossing irregularly near Lacolle, Que. That represents an average of 62 people per day.
In April, there were 2,479 interceptions in Lacolle, which works out to an average 83 people per day.
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The final tally for May is not expected to be made available for another week or more, but if the average number of daily crossings holds, it will represent a notable shift in activity at the border — one that the Liberals have been waiting months for.
The news comes 24 hours after the latest meeting of the government’s Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Irregular Migration in Ottawa.
The task force’s chair, Transportation Minister Marc Garneau, issued a statement on Thursday noting that “we have come a long way since the issue of irregular migration surfaced last summer.”
The Conservatives have called repeatedly on the Trudeau government to close a loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States, allowing it to be applied along the entire length of the border. That, in turn, would allow officials on the Canadian side to immediately send most people back to the U.S. to make their claim there.
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The Liberals have been clear that there are no formal talks underway to modify the agreement.
Ottawa has promised a triage system will be put in place, however, to ferry people away from Quebec, where social services and community organizations say they have been overwhelmed by the influx of asylum seekers. The vast majority of the over 8,600 people who have crossed so far this year have come through that province.
But the election in Ontario is apparently making it difficult to finalize any plans for ferrying people west.
Romanian asylum claims continue to spike
Meanwhile, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen was back before the House of Commons immigration committee on Thursday, his second appearance this week.
Hussen was asked about the situation at the border, and reiterated that the government has invested millions in speeding up the processing of asylum claims and dispelling myths about the ease of coming to Canada.
Asked how many asylum seekers who have crossed irregularly since January 2017 have since been removed from Canada, Hussen said that is a question for Public Safety. The government has promised to inform the committee of the number of removals within the next few days.
Hussen was also asked about a separate issue on Thursday: the dropping of the visa requirement for citizens of Romania.
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As of Dec. 1, 2017, citizens of Romania and Bulgaria no longer need a visa to travel to Canada for short stays of up to six months. Hussen was asked how many asylum claims there have been from Romanian citizens since that time, and Paul MacKinnon, assistant deputy minister for strategic and program policy, informed the committee that it stood at 1,022.
That’s a significant rise since February, when the total stood at 232. By comparison, just 120 Romanians claimed asylum in Canada in all of 2016.
The increase was enough to prompt a meeting with Romania’s ambassador to Canada over the winter months, and officials confirmed on Thursday that a limit has been set for the number of asylum claims Canada will accept from Romania before it reinstates the visa requirement.
The committee was told that the government would not disclose that number “out of respect for the relationship” between the two countries.
-With a file from The Canadian Press
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