OTTAWA — The federal government has been closely monitoring public reaction to the influx of asylum seekers in Canada — regularly conducting national surveys and measuring discussions on social media.
Documents released to The Canadian Press under access-to-information law show department officials receive weekly internal updates on media coverage and public response to issues related to asylum seekers coming irregularly into the country across the Canada-U.S. border.
This monitoring includes internal polling conducted by the Immigration Department to track public opinion about asylum seekers.
Two mid-year surveys of 2,000 Canadians, conducted by the department in March, suggested Canadians were not overly confident about Canada's ability to manage the border at unguarded points-of-entry and had little sense of obligation about accepting asylum seekers from the United States.
Fewer than half of respondents — 43 per cent in a telephone survey and 35 per cent in an online survey — agreed that Canada is taking appropriate steps to manage irregular border crossings.
Forty-two per cent of telephone respondents and just 18 per cent of those online indicated they felt the number of people coming to Canada and claiming asylum was at an appropriate level.
"Canadians are more receptive to refugees who have been selected by the government of Canada compared to those who come to Canada and claim asylum," the internal document notes as one of its key takeaways from the public survey.
The documents also show the Immigration Department closely measures public comment about asylum seekers on social media. This includes a weekly average of how many times the issue is mentioned every day.
The government also measures the number of times media stories published about asylum seekers including "myths countering messaging."
It also uses social media as a tool to disseminate information as part of its outreach efforts to discourage irregular migrants from coming to Canada.
A targeted advertising campaign using search engine marketing to reach key populations in the U.S. was launched on Dec. 18, 2017 and continued until March 17, 2018, which included "targeted messaging based on users' search terms to users in select U.S. cities where larger temporary protected status populations are found," the internal document states.
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Canada first began experiencing an influx of "irregular" border crossers in early 2017, shortly after U.S. President Donald Trump announced he would end a program that offered temporary protected status to immigrants from several countries in the United States.
Over 36,000 asylum seekers have since arrived in Canada from the U.S., avoiding official border checkpoints where they would have been turned back to the U.S. under the Safe Third Country agreement between the two countries. Instead, they have been crossing the border along forest paths and fields, declaring their intent to seek refugee status once on Canadian soil.
The issue has sparked calls for Canada to suspend or amend the Safe Third Country Agreement as a way to stop the flow of irregular migrants.
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Border Security Minister Bill Blair points to the fact that there was not a major surge in the number of irregular border crossers apprehended by RCMP this summer compared to last summer.
"Our senior officials are working hard, they are working hard and they are managing the situation quite ably," Blair said Thursday.
However, year-over-year numbers show that overall, more people have crossed irregularly into Canada so far this year compared to the number of individuals who crossed from January to September of 2017.
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