Canadian authorities on Tuesday reported a surge of asylum seekers crossing illegally from the U.S. in the first two months of the year. The new statistics show that the total remains small, but the number of people detained is growing and is nearly half of the illegal entries reported in all of 2016.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police intercepted 476 border crossers nationwide in January and 658 in February for a total of 1,134 during Canada's two coldest months. Most of the crossings came in Quebec, Manitoba and British Columbia. Immigration Department statistics show 2,464 were apprehended in 2016.
Some refugees have said they wanted to come north due to fears that asylum will be harder to obtain in the United States under President Donald Trump, citing anti-Muslim campaign rhetoric.
But Canadian Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen told Parliament Monday the political atmosphere in the U.S. isn't what's driving them.
He said many of those apprehended in Manitoba had been in the U.S. for less than two months and had always intended to make Canada their final destination.
"This is definitely not specific to the incoming U.S. administration," he said.
Officials in the Manitoba town of Emerson said another 29 asylum-seekers walked over the border there from the U.S. over the weekend.
Opposition Conservative lawmaker Tony Clement urged the Liberal government in Parliament on Tuesday to "regain control of our borders." Another Conservative lawmaker, Michelle Rempel, warned more will come when the weather gets warmer.
"Illegal border crossings are increasing with no end in sight," she said.
Liberal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale acknowledged the numbers have increased in recent months and said they are monitoring it closely.
"We are concerned about the pattern of people arriving at the border, particularly those who have in the last number of weeks and months who actually risked their lives in very severe weather conditions," he said.