Two-thirds call irregular border crossings a ‘crisis,’ more trust Scheer to handle issue than Trudeau

Weeks of questions and criticism from opposition politicians and provincial leaders about asylum-seekers crossing the border – an issue already the source of heightened anxiety and concern for Canadians – have taken a further toll on the Trudeau government’s perceived ability to manage the situation.

In the wake of emergency meetings of the Parliamentary Immigration Committee, and as Ontario Premier Doug Ford demands compensation from Ottawa for the cost of caring for those who cross the border irregularly, Canadians are growing increasingly concerned about the country’s ability to handle the flow.

Despite the recent addition of Bill Blair to cabinet as Minister of Border Security, the latest survey from the Angus Reid Institute finds two-thirds of Canadians (67%) call the current situation a “crisis”.

Further, about the same number (65%) are of the view that Canada has received “too many” irregular crossers for the country’s authorities and service providers to handle.

These views are held not only by conservative-minded individuals, but also by more than half of those who voted for the Liberal and New Democratic parties in 2015, suggesting that asylum-seekers and border security are areas of vulnerability for the Liberal Party – and a potential effective wedge for the Conservative Party in next year’s anticipated election.

Indeed, a plurality of Canadians, including sizeable segments of past left-leaning voters, say they trust CPC leader Andrew Scheer more than the other main party leaders to deal with this file.

More Key Findings:Migrants

  • Canadians are paying a great deal of attention to this issue. It scores higher on the ARI Awareness Index than any other topic ARI has polled on so far in 2018 (see notes on methodology at the end of this report)
  • Six-in-ten (58%) say Canada is “too generous” to those crossing the border irregularly. This is a slight increase since the last time ARI asked this question last year (when it was 53%)
  • Most Canadians would rather focus on border monitoring and security than on accommodating these new arrivals. Roughly half (50%) say assisting asylum-seekers is “important” or a “major priority,” compared to 78 per cent who say this of increasing border security
  • Roughly three-in-ten Canadians (30%) say the country should suspend its Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) with the United States, which would allow asylum-seekers to cross at official border-crossings. A larger number (43%) say the STCA should remain in place



  • Is the flow of asylum-seekers manageable?
  • Most say Canada is ‘too generous’ to border-crossers
  • Genuine refugees or economic opportunists?
  • Uncertainty about the Safe Third Country Agreement
  • Two-in-three say irregular border crossings are ‘a crisis’
  • Scheer most trusted to handle the issue
  • Notes on methodology


Is the flow of asylum-seekers manageable?

The phenomenon of people walking across unguarded sections of the border from the United States to claim asylum in Canada has been in the news since early 2017, when newly inaugurated U.S. President Donald Trump announced the first version of his travel ban and border towns in Quebec and Manitoba began seeing an influx of asylum-seekers in their communities.

Since then – encouraged, some argue, by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s anti-travel-ban #WelcomeToCanada tweet – the number of people crossing the border irregularly has surged past 1,000 per month.

Awareness of this issue among the Canadian public is high. The topic registers a score of 62 on the ARI Awareness Index, the highest score recorded in 2018 so far. For more on the awareness index, see notes on methodology at the end of this report.

However, when asked to estimate how many people have crossed outside an official point of entry since 2017, almost half (48%) of Canadians overestimated the number at more than 50,000. In actuality, the number of people who have crossed this way in that time frame – according to government statistics – is more than 31,000.


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:

Responses to this crisis question are discussed in greater detail later in this report.

After being presented with the correct number of irregular crossers, most Canadians say it amounts to “too many people for Canada to handle”:


Majorities across all demographic groupings say the number of border-crossers is too high, but certain groups are much more likely to feel this way. Most notably, those who cast ballots for the Conservative Party of Canada in 2015 are overwhelmingly of the opinion that more than 30,000 asylum-seekers is too many. More than half of past Liberals and New Democrats also feel this way, but those groups are considerably more divided than past Conservatives:


Age and education are also highly correlated with the perception that Canada cannot handle the flow of people seeking refugee status across its border.

Among those over age 35, fully two-thirds say there are too many asylum-seekers for Canada to handle, while those in the 18-34-year-old age group are more divided.

A similar pattern emerges across education levels, with those without university degrees much more likely to say too many people are arriving in Canada irregularly:


Most say Canada is ‘too generous’ to border-crossers

Chief among the province of Ontario’s complaints about the federal government’s handling of asylum-seekers is the expense of providing these new arrivals with housing, health care and other services while they wait for their claims to be heard.

The federal government has promised $50 million to help provinces deal with these costs, including $11 million for Ontario, specifically, but the Ford government says that total will only amount to a fraction of the costs the province has incurred.

For its part, the Canadian public tends to be of the opinion that Canada is “too generous” to people who cross the border at an unofficial point of entry and attempt to claim asylum here. Almost six-in-ten (58%) hold this perspective, a slight increase from the 53 per cent who said this in an ARI poll released in September 2017:


Related: Half of Canadians say their country is ‘too generous’ toward illegal border crossers

As was the case last year, age and political partisanship are key sources of disagreement on this question. While at least six-in-ten of those in over-35 age groups take the perspective that Canada is too generous toward these newcomers, those ages 18 to 34 are more divided.

Similarly, while 84 per cent of past CPC voters say Canada is too generous to these people, fewer than half of past Liberal and NDP supporters say the same:


This widespread sense that Canada is too generous to these would-be refugees corresponds with a lesser emphasis from Canadians on accommodating them than on improving border security.

Roughly half of Canadians (50%) say getting these new arrivals safely into Canada should be an important or major priority, compared to more than three-quarters (78%) who say this of assigning additional police and immigration officers to monitor and secure unguarded areas of the border.


full report at

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