August 3, 2018 12:39 pm
Updated: August 3, 2018 9:47 pm

‘Crisis’ or ‘misperception?’ Bill Blair reacts to new poll on how Canadians view migrants

WATCH: Most Canadians say irregular border crossings are a 'crisis,' poll finds

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A new poll released Friday suggests two-thirds of Canadians think irregular border crossings are at a “crisis” level.

But Bill Blair, the newly named Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction, said those concerns show many don’t understand the issue.

READ MORE: Asylum seekers in Toronto being moved from college dormitories ahead of deadline

“I read the results of that poll,” Blair said when asked by reporters about the results during a press conference in Toronto.

“Canadians have a misperception of the number of people coming and the circumstances under which they are coming.”

WATCH: Bill Blair brushes aside Doug Ford’s ‘rhetoric’; says work is ongoing on asylum seekers


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According to the poll, conducted by the Angus Reid Institute, 67 per cent of Canadian respondents surveyed called the current situation a “crisis.”

Another 65 per cent also said Canada has received “too many” irregular border crossers for the country to handle.

READ MORE: Majority of illegal migrants to Canada in 2018 are Nigerians with U.S. travel visas

Fifty-eight per cent said Canada is being “too generous” with the crossers.

As well, 40 per cent said they think the migrants are economic opportunists rather than genuine refugees.

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However, responses to that question revealed a sharp partisan divide among respondents.

When asked whether the migrants are economic opportunists or genuine refugees, 63 per cent of people who identified as Conservatives said the former.

When the same question was put to those identifying as Liberals and NDP supporters, the number dropped to 27 per cent.

READ MORE: Ottawa’s plan to help overwhelmed cities deal with asylum seekers still weeks away

For months, Conservatives have attacked the government over what they argue is a failure to prevent recent spikes in people crossing the border on foot and then making a claim for asylum.

The political furor kicked off after a crackdown on immigration in the United States prompted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to post his infamous “Welcome to Canada” tweet in January 2017, which sparked confusion among immigration officials over whether it meant Canada would take in those being hit by anti-immigrant policies south of the border.

WATCH BELOW: Government calls asylum seekers “illegal,” critics call them “irregular”

It also launched a wave of inquiries from would-be refugee claimants, as the National Post reported previously.

“A significant number of the enquiries received since the weekend have been from nationals of the ‘U.S. banned countries’, but we are also receiving them from all nationalities, both through emails and directly at our reception,” one official was quoted as writing in an email after the tweet.

Ever since, the Conservatives have used the issue as a hammer to critique the government’s response to irregular migration but the party has also been repeatedly accused of fearmongering.

READ MORE: Conservative party pulls attack ad depicting black man ‘illegally’ crossing border

Last month, the party launched — and quickly deleted — an attack ad that showed a black man with a suitcase walking into Canada over a path made out of Trudeau’s tweet.

Blair did not point fingers at the Conservatives but said the poll results suggest rhetoric is having an impact on Canadians.

“It is important that we address many of the misconceptions and misinformation that Canadians have heard that, quite frankly, causes a fear,” he said. “A fear not based on facts but on rhetoric.”

New numbers shared by the parliamentary budget officer show the government has spent roughly $270 million over the last year and a half on dealing with the irregular border crossers.

WATCH BELOW: Ford, Tory meet to discuss issues including gun violence and migrants

Another $11 million has just been given to the City of Toronto to help the city cover the cost of housing and caring for migrants.

A federal triage centre will be set up in Cornwall, Ont., in the coming weeks.

Blair said the goal of that centre will be to help allocate migrants to communities with jobs to fill and that have places for them to live.

WATCH BELOW: Raitt says Trudeau tweet on refugees ‘opened the floodgates’

More than 7,600 people have crossed the Canada-U.S. border irregularly since the beginning of this year.

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