The Canadian Press
23 Minutes AgoImmigration Minister Ahmed Hussen says additional members of his department are being deployed in Montreal to allow initial claims for asylum to be assessed faster. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)
The federal-provincial task force charged with managing an unprecedented flow of asylum seekers over the Canada-U.S.. border will meet Wednesday in Montreal to review next steps in handling the surge.
While officials said this week that the number of those crossing into Quebec has declined to about 140 a day from 250 a day last week, the federal government continues to ramp up its ability to process their claims for refugee status — and to be ready for a potential new spike in arrivals.
More than 6,000 people have crossed illegally into Quebec from New York since July, the vast majority Haitians. They're believed to be fleeing an announcement by the U.S. government that it is considering lifting temporary protected status for Haitian nationals, meaning thousands could end up deported back to Haiti.
But they're not the only group facing that policy change: temporary protected status for citizens from nine other countries is set to expire in the coming months and there's no guarantee the U.S. will renew it.
Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen says he's aware citizens from those countries could very well be seeking to tread the same rocky paths over the Canada-U.S. border as Haitians continue to do.
Canada doesn't know if protected status will be lifted, Hussen said in an interview Tuesday.
"Every country has a sovereign right to decide who comes into their country, who stays, who gets removed and the United States is no exception," he said.
"But we will be vigorous, we will be proactive."
The federal Liberals have been accused by the Opposition Conservatives of being anything but proactive in their response to the increased numbers of asylum seekers coming into Canada since the start of the year.
While the change in U.S. policy is likely the root cause of the Haitians migration, they've been spurred as well by false information circulating since the spring on social media and elsewhere. The information has suggested that Canada will give them special status because of their temporary protected position in the U.S.
Hussen said it was not fair to suggest the government hasn't been doing enough outreach.
He noted that he and others have been stressing for months that those crossing illegally into Canada have no guarantee of asylum and have also repeatedly pointed out that all security screening procedures are being followed.
It was, however, was only last week that Canadian consulates in the U.S. were drafted into efforts to clear up misconceptions about Canada's system.
On Wednesday, Liberal MP Emmanuel Dubourg will travel to Miami for direct contact with the Haitian diaspora there, using his status as a member of Canada's Haitian community and fluent Creole skills to try and manage the issue.
Dubourg is also a member of the task force that will be meeting in Montreal on Wednesday.
He said in an interview with The Canadian Press this week that, for now, he's unaware of any efforts being made to directly reach out to groups from other countries who could be looking to come to Canada.
Hussen said the efforts underway in Canada to deal with the current flow will stand the government in good stead should there be another wave.
Among the measures to be discussed Wednesday include progress in increasing the number of immigration officers available in both Montreal and Cornwall, Ont., — where hundreds of asylum seekers are being temporarily housed — in order to process claims faster.
Eventually, the goal is to build a mobile team of immigration officials who could process claims on site — a group that could be deployed should another surge materialize.