Canadians cool to migrants: Are Canuck attitudes inching closer to Americans'?

A new poll shows that Canadians are becoming increasingly wary of illegal immigration, highlighting a growing split between how they view refugees and those who cross the border as migrants.

Christinne Muschi/ Reuters
A family that claimed to be from Turkey are arrested as they are met by Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers after they crossed the U.S.-Canada border illegally leading into Hemmingford, Quebec, Canada on March 20, 2017.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has governed on a platform that has garnered international praise by refugee advocates for its welcoming stance.

But a number of Canadians aren’t a fan of the country’s border policies, and actually support ramping up deportation efforts of undocumented immigrants, a new poll shows.

Four out of 10 respondents to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released on Monday said they believed those illegally crossing the Canadian-US border would make the country "less safe." Forty-eight percent said they supported "increasing the deportation of people living in Canada illegally," while 50 percent of Americans support "increasing the deportation of illegal immigrants," according to a US version of the poll conducted the same week.

Legal immigration has enjoyed high bipartisan support in Canada for decades. The handling of those attempting to cross into the country illegally, however, has been more fractious.

Like the United States, Canada has a stringent policy for evaluating the refugee status claims of migrants. The tone set by Prime Minister Trudeau, however, has been markedly more welcoming than that of the US President Donald Trump. Increasingly, Mr. Trudeau is facing criticism for his stance from both sides: those on the left argue that more asylum-seekers should be welcomed in, while those in opposition raise concerns about migrants, similar to those put forth by Mr. Trump, arguing that the move makes Canada vulnerable to extremist attacks.

Forty-six percent of Canadians disagreed with the prime minister's policy on migrants crossing from the United States, according to the Reuters/Ipsos poll, while 37 percent agree with it, and 17 percent said they did not know. A separate January poll, however, showed that Trudeau's policies winning overall approval from 59 percent of Canadians, while 41 percent disapproved.

Following the signing of Mr. Trump’s first executive order on immigration, Trudeau reiterated his country’s welcoming stance in a tweet.

“To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith,” he wrote. “Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada.”

But Canadians are becoming increasingly concerned about those who don’t follow the proper legal channels to enter the country.

"Refugees are much more welcomed when we have gone and selected them ourselves as a country, as opposed to refugees who have chosen us," Janet Dench, the executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, told Reuters.

Part of the recent influx in undocumented immigrants stems from people in the US crossing over the border into Canada. Spurred by fears of Mr. Trump’s proposed crackdowns on refugees and illegal immigration, several hundred people have already made the trek to Canada this year.

That also occurs, in part, because those in the US can’t apply for asylum in Canada, as the US is considered safe country. Once in Canada, however, their cases can be considered.

Although anxiety around immigration is climbing, it’s not the most pressing issue among Canadian voters. Twenty-three percent of respondents listed immigration control as among the top national issues in March, which marked a 6 percent jump from December. The issue still ranks behind healthcare, taxes, unemployment, and poverty, which Canadians view as primary concerns.

This report includes material from Reuters.

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