Mr. Chairman, thank you very much. That's a wonderful present. I'm delighted to be here. It's good to see you again in a new capacity; I remember you last being the chair of the public safety committee.
I'm very glad to have the opportunity with Minister Hussen to discuss the issue of irregular migration.
I would like to thank the committee and its members for their exhaustive and rigorous review of this important national issue.
Canada is an open, welcoming, and generous country, but it is also a country with the rule of law, and the Government of Canada takes its laws and the integrity of its borders very seriously.
Some people, in the circumstances of this year, appear to have been misled to believe that crossing the border into Canada in an irregular fashion is somehow a free ticket to Canada—but it certainly is not. We have been making that point repeatedly in Parliament, in the media, in the public domain, and in the United States since the surge of asylum seekers began earlier this year.
We want people to know that crossing the border into Canada between designated ports of entry is contrary to the law. We also want to warn people about how dangerous that can be. That's why there are rigorous immigration and customs rules that must be followed.
To be clear, we enforce those rules through the CBSA, the RCMP, the IRCC, and other agencies to protect our border and to safeguard our communities while we also respect all of Canada's international obligations, including those that are reflected in section 133 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
Everyone seeking entry to Canada must demonstrate they meet the requirements to enter and/or to stay here. That's a matter of fact, proof, and evidence. It is not negotiable. It applies regardless of where or how people try to enter the country.
Those entering Canada outside of ports of entry are subject to particular scrutiny. They are arrested by the RCMP or by a local law enforcement officer under the terms of the Customs Act. The RCMP then conducts a preliminary risk assessment to determine if the person has been involved in illegal activity or presents any safety or security risk.
This assessment involves detailed questioning, searches, the examination of documents, and so forth. It may result in the person remaining in RCMP custody for further investigation, if that is deemed necessary, or being transferred to another police agency, if that is the appropriate course. Or, the person will be brought to a Canada Border Services Agency officer at a port of entry or to an inland CBSA or IRCC office.
Once they have cleared that preliminary police and security check at the moment of irregular crossing, asylum seekers then face a careful process to determine whether they are admissible and eligible to make a claim according to Canadian and international law. There are no shortcuts, no exceptions, and no special treatment. There are also no guarantees that an asylum seeker will be able to stay in Canada. That is up to the IRB to determine. Not all asylum claims will be accepted, and not everyone is eligible even to make an asylum claim. The rules are very clearly specified in the IRPA, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
Verifying an asylum claimant's identity is, obviously, fundamental and essential. It's done for all cases, each and every time, using both biographic and biometric information. This screening includes an interview, taking fingerprints and photographs, as well as medical, security, and criminal record checks. The process is intended to ensure that anyone who wants to come to Canada has not committed serious crimes and does not pose a health or safety risk to Canadians.
An asylum seeker's records are examined for any immigration, criminal, or national security concerns and they are checked against Canadian, international, and other databases, including Interpol's. No one leaves the port of entry without this initial security screening having been completed in a very professional manner, in the first instance by the RCMP, and then by CBSA.
If there is doubt, they can and will be detained. If the applicant is eligible, the person's file will be referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board for appropriate consideration. The person will be authorized to be in Canada to attend a hearing of the IRB, where each claim is decided on a case-by-case basis.
Bear in mind that the nature of the claim being made by asylum seekers is that they are seeking asylum in Canada because they need Canada's protection for their life or their safety. If the IRB determines that individuals are not in need of Canada's protection, they are removed from Canada. Under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, removal orders must be enforced as quickly as possible. The Canada Border Services Agency is firmly committed to doing so. Sometimes, you will note, they get some flack for that, but it is their duty under the law to effect those removals as quickly as possible.
Many people have been working very hard to ensure that the process I have described is managed effectively, efficiently, and in as orderly a fashion as possible. That includes reallocating resources to where they are most required within the RCMP, within CBSA, and within IRCC. Responding to the increase in asylum seekers this year has been very much a whole-of-government effort. Besides the two or three that are abundantly obvious, numerous departments are involved in the coordinated response, and that is all organized and coordinated through the Government Operations Centre in my Department of Public Safety. The leadership shown by all the agencies has permitted an efficient and effective response to a very fluid situation.
Enhanced processing capacity at Lacolle and at inland offices in Montreal and Cornwall has significantly reduced the backlog of people awaiting initial processing and eligibility determination. In some cases, we are able to conduct both the initial interview and investigation and the secondary stage eligibility interview at Lacolle, and that reduces pressures down the road.
As members of the committee will know, the ad hoc intergovernmental task force on irregular migration, of which Minister Hussen and I are members, was recently created, involving not just the federal agencies but also a number of provincial agencies, to work on issues related to the influx of asylum seekers entering Canada from the United States. The collaboration at that level has been very good. The task force has met four times so far, most recently a week ago today.
Canadian authorities are diligent in protecting the integrity of our border and the safety of our country while applying our rules and procedures to provide refuge for those in need of our protection according to Canadian and international law. The government will continue to address irregular migration in accordance with that law and in keeping with our values as an open and welcoming country.
Thank you for your interest, and I am happy now to give the floor to Minister Hussen.