We already know there are a number of safety problems surrounding our borders. But when we learn that more than 300 people have illegally crossed the border at Stanstead since the beginning of the year, we realize the extent of this phenomenon.
Fortunately, asylum seekers are not dangerous. As soon as they have found a way to cross the border, they stop and ask to speak to the authorities to file a refugee claim. They cooperate.
But if these people with no means can so easily elude the Canada Border Services Agency and the RCMP, it is likely that criminals, arms and drug traffickers are doing the same. Such are the findings of access to information requests, which confirmed that human trafficking was occurring in Stanstead. Recently, a case of arms trafficking also made headlines.
This is a very important public safety issue and as the MP for Compton-Stanstead, I cannot remain silent on this situation. It is my duty to call on the government to take action.
Especially since the Conservatives recklessly cut funding to the Canada Border Services Agency last March. We are talking here about more than $140M in cuts affecting more than 1,300 employees across the country. Already, the Agency has cut direct services to citizens by reducing the hours of some border crossings in our region. This is not going to help with the marked increase in illegal entries through Stanstead in recent months, on the contrary.
I understand the citizens who fear tighter border controls. The people of Stanstead have lived in harmony with their Derby Line neighbours for decades. It is essential to maintain this community spirit. Free access to the Haskell Library must be ensured: it is a symbol to be preserved.
I fear, however, that the Conservative government will impose drastic measures, without consulting or giving any thought to the local population, by imposing restrictions on honest citizens or criminalizing people seeking a bet- ter life by immigrating to Canada.
That is why I am in favour of better surveillance, with minimal impact on the population. A sufficient number of staff with the tools necessary to do its job well is the first step.
Let me be clear: we won’t guarantee tranquility for Stanstead through budget cuts, severely tightened border controls or barriers that penalize the local population.
Just recently, media reported that citizens noticed and welcomed an increased RCMP presence in the area: this is probably a good way to harmonize the public safety and tranquility of Stanstead residents.
And most of all, to curb these illegal entries that make headlines every week and give our region bad press. The Conservative government must take its responsibilities and work with the community to find a solution that works for everyone.