POLITICS
01/22/2019 17:47 EST | Updated 01/23/2019 10:36 EST

Feds Minimize U.S. Congressman's Concerns About Canada-U.S. Border

The border is heating up to be a Canadian election issue.

Adrian Wyld/CP
Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Bill Blair responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Nov. 29, 2018.

OTTAWA — The federal minister responsible for border security is downplaying concerns raised by an American congressman about threats along the Canada-U.S border.

California Democrat Rep. Lou Correa told CTV News in an interview that aired Sunday that America's northern border is "totally wide open" because of insufficient staffing. Correa is chairman-elect of the House Homeland Security Oversight Subcommittee.

A spokeswoman for Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair said Canada has ongoing discussions with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on the topic of a bilateral "shared goal of facilitating the movement of low-risk travellers and goods."

Watch: Ralph Goodale says funding aims to help stop gun smuggling

Canadian and U.S. law enforcement agencies work with each other on a daily basis to address potential threats, spokeswoman Marie-Emmanuelle Cadieux said in an email Monday evening.

"With over 400,000 people crossing our border with the United States every day, and neither country ever being the origin of a terrorist attack against the other, the Canada-U.S. relationship comprises one of the closest and most robust security partnerships in the world," she said.

Correa told CTV News that there are "big swaths of area" along the border that nobody is patrolling. "A lot of negative things go in and out: drug trade, arms trade, things that happen on the northern border that nobody's watching. And it's happening now," he said.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale responded to Correa's comments Monday mentioning 200 U.S. border patrol agent vacancies flagged in a recent report.

Noting the $2.5-billion value of goods physically traded between the two countries every day, Goodale said the vast majority of the Canada-U.S. border is "absolutely problem-free."

"So there's no criticism about the staffing or the employee complement, the security complement on the Canadian side," he said.

Democrats pushing for more attention on U.S.-Canada border

Newly empowered House Democrats are critical of President Trump's focus on the southern U.S.-Mexico border, and Correa suggested more resources need to be considered for the 49th parallel, which stretches approximately 6,416.5 kilometres.

And he's not the only Democrat raising similar concerns.

Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.) told the House of Representatives earlier this month that Trump's claims that "thousands" of terrorists enter the U.S. through the southern border are not based in fact.

"Last year, more suspected foreign terrorists were apprehended at the northern border than at our southern border," Brown said in a Jan. 10 speech protesting a government shutdown over funding for the wall proposed along the U.S.-Mexico border.

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In its 2018-2019 departmental plan tabled last year, the Canada Border Services Agency stated "keeping pace with cross-border criminal activity, national security threats, migration flows and public safety priorities is an ongoing challenge."

The agency noted that advances in technology could bolster the CBSA's border protection capabilities, but "may also benefit transnational organized crime groups in identifying and exploiting border vulnerabilities."

Conservatives have been critical about the government's handling of border-related issues, particularly involving the movement of irregular border crossers — those who enter Canada between official border checkpoints.

Tory MP Michelle Rempel extended an opportunity for Correa to appear before a House committee on immigration, of which she is a vice-chair.

Correa did not respond to HuffPost Canada's request for confirmation if he accepted or declined Rempel's offer.