Canada Border Services Agency is asking for an extra $218 million this year, bringing its total purse to just under $2 billion, as the department grapples with unpredictable and fluctuating levels of asylum seekers and meeting the government’s immigration targets.
If Parliament approves the requested spending, the CBSA’s budget will have increased slightly more than 10 per cent in the three years since 2015-16, according to federal documents including spending estimates, department plans and public accounts.
Considering the influx of asylum seekers jumping the border, however, the Liberal government needs to be pouring even more resources into the agency, said Conservative public safety critic Tony Clement.
“We need more money to secure the border. We need more funds going to the right places,” Clement said.
“CBSA agents have said they’re stretched, they’ve said they need more resources.”
WATCH: Manitoba to open shelter for asylum seekers near U.S. border
When the previous Conservative government mandated budget cuts across the board, the CBSA’s annual budget was reduced by more than $140 million and more than 1,350 jobs were cut, including front-line officers and intelligence officers.
The priorities have changed, though, said Clement, who, as Treasury Board President at the time oversaw the Conservative budget cuts that saw the CBSA budget hit a low of $1.7 billion in 2012-13.
WATCH: Asylum seekers paid up to $2K U.S. to be smuggled into Canada according to border agents
“I think the demands are always changing,” he said. “Terrorists are becoming more sophisticated all the time, Canada has more commitments along the border with the Americans.”
A spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said the agency’s resources are adequate.
“The fact of the matter is that CBSA has the resources it needs to protect the border, and has received extra funding to manage the volumes they face,” Scott Bardsley wrote in an email. “The minister’s approach is in line with Canadian values and international obligations, and is keeping the borders secure.
In February, when residents of Manitoba and Quebec were seeing hundreds of asylum seekers cross over their borders, the CBSA union president said the agency and its officers were critically short on resources.
Jean-Pierre Fortin said Canada’s understaffed land borders are vulnerable to terrorists and asked the government to restore the more than 1,000 jobs lost under the Conservatives and for a dedicated team to patrol the border in between land ports.
Around the new year, the number of asylum-seekers crossing the border by foot at unguarded points started to increase.
The latest numbers indicated a slight dip in illegal crossings between April (859) and March (887), but the April numbers still represent almost three times the amount recorded in January.
WATCH: Canada Border Services not collecting adequate visitor information, says auditor general
Within the first two months of 2017, the RCMP intercepted more than 1,130 asylum seekers illegally crossing the border – nearly half of the total number intercepted throughout 2016.
Public Safety Canada has consistently said that, despite the flood of immigrants crossing between land ports, the RCMP and CBSA are enforcing the law and maintaining the safety and security of Canadians.
Beyond strengthening border operations, the additional $200 million Public Safety is requesting for the CBSA is also earmarked to help support the 300,000 immigrants the Liberal government committed to accept in 2017, according to the estimates published last week.
Although the 2017 target number represents an increase of 40,000 from the previous 260,000 “annual base target” in place between 2011 and 2015, it’s on par with the number accepted in 2016, when Canada opened its borders to help accommodate the influx of Syrian refugees.
WATCH: Canada Border Services failing to inspect thousands of goods. auditor general report finds
Some of the practices at the CBSA were under the microscope this week when the federal auditor general said the agency’s officers missed or overlooked potential threats entering the country and approving temporary resident permits “without appropriate justification,” including in some cases to people with criminal convictions.
The auditor general also found the CBSA may bot be collecting all customs duties and failed to levy customs duties on $131 million worth of quota-controlled goods.
With files from Reuters and The Canadian Press