Two-thirds of Canadians believe the current influx of asylum seekers into Canada is a “crisis” and that could have political repercussions for Canada’s Liberal government and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, says a new poll by the Angus Reid Institute.
Since January 2017, roughly 30,000 people have claimed asylum in Canada by crossing its border with the United States between official ports of entry. The vast majority of these so-called “irregular” crossings have occurred in Quebec.
The number of crossings dropped significantly in June, but the poll reflects public opinion between July 25 and 30.
The Angus Reid Institute poll found that 65 per cent of Canadians believe there are “too many” people claiming asylum by irregular means for authorities and service providers to handle.
Nearly half of those polled, however, put the number at more than 50,000 and nearly one-third of Canadians estimated 75,000 or more had crossed the border by an irregular route.
“Those who overestimate the number of irregular crossers tend to be more likely to see the issue as a crisis, while those who underestimate it are much less concerned,” the Angus Reid Institute observed.
These views on the asylum seeker situation are spread across Canada’s political spectrum, the poll says, and are shared by more than half of Canadians who voted for the federal Liberal or New Democratic parties in the last election.
Of Canadians who voted for the Conservative Party of Canada, 84 per cent believe there are too many people claiming asylum and that Canada is “too generous” toward them.
‘Crisis’ narrative criticized
The jump in irregular crossings at Canada’s U.S. border coincided with the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump, whose administration has moved to strip protected status from citizens of Haiti and other countries and ban travellers from a handful of Muslim-majority countries, among other hard-line immigration policies. This dynamic was replaced this year by a surge in asylum claims from Nigerians.
The Conservative Party of Canada has been the most outspoken on the situation, accusing the ruling Liberal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of mismanagement and downplaying the situation, which the Conservatives have long labelled a “crisis.”
The Canadian government has avoided such language and Trudeau has been joined by human rights leaders in accusing the Conservatives of playing a “dangerous game.”
“[Conservatives] are using the politics of fear and division to pit Canadians against each other,” Trudeau said in late July.
His comment came on the heels of an op-ed penned by Canada’s representative to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Jean-Nicholas Beuze, who wrote that “it is wrong and irresponsible to instil fears about refugees in Canada.”
“Today’s refugee crisis is not here — but in countries neighbouring conflicts in Africa or the Middle-East,” he wrote. “The least we can do when we see how these countries proudly and courageously welcomed hundreds of thousands of refugees is not to cry wolf here.”
The Angus Reid poll suggests, however, that the Conservative narrative is winning out and that could have repercussions in the next federal election, which is expected next year.
“Asylum seekers and border security are areas of vulnerability for the Liberal Party — and a potential effective wedge issue for the Conservative Party in next year’s anticipated election,” the Angus Reid Institute says.
The polls’ findings suggest that 48 per cent of Canadians “including sizeable segments of past left-leaning voters” trust Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer on the asylum seeker file over Trudeau and other federal party leaders. Among those who voted Liberal in 2015, for example, 30 per cent favoured Scheer’s leadership on the issue.
Canadians “are paying a great deal of attention to this issue,” which scored higher on the institute’s awareness index than any other topic, the poll found.
The Liberal government recently appointed former Toronto police chief Bill Blair as Canada’s new Minister for Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction in a bid to appease public concerns.
The Angus Reid Institute found that more than three-quarters of Canadians believe border security is “important” or a “major priority” and half see assisting asylum seekers this same way.
The Angus Reid Institute says this last finding may reflect the fact only 27 per cent of Canadians believe most of those claiming asylum are genuine refugees. Four in 10 Canadians believe the majority are economic migrants.
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