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Canada's Trudeau, facing criticism, appoints border security minister

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau congratulates Bill Blair after he was sworn-in as Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction during a cabinet shuffle at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, July 18, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday appointed a minister responsible for border-crossing asylum seekers, tens of thousands of whom have walked across the border since early 2017, as his government comes under fire for not taking the issue seriously.

As part of a larger cabinet shuffle, Trudeau appointed member of parliament Bill Blair Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction and “minister responsible for irregular migration.”

Since January 2017, more than 30,000 people have illegally crossed the Canada-U.S. border to file refugee claims in Canada. Many have told Reuters they did so because they did not feel safe pursuing refugee claims in President Donald Trump's United States. (Graphics:

The numbers dropped significantly in both May and June with an average of about 42 people a day crossing in June, compared to about 85 a day in April, according to government figures.

But the federal Liberal government has come under fire from political opponents for not taking more aggressive action on the issue. This week the opposition Conservatives and NDP demanded an emergency study of the government’s response.

Ottawa has also butted heads with Ontario’s new populist government under Premier Doug Ford. Ford and his immigration minister blamed the Liberals for creating a “mess” and demanded they cover the cost.

Canada and the United States have an agreement under which asylum seekers who try to cross at formal ports of entry are turned around and told to apply in the first country they arrived in. People have crossed illegally between those formal crossings, where the agreement does not apply. Once in Canada they have a right to file refugee claims.

For months Canada has sought U.S. consent to amend the agreement so that it applies across the entire border, allowing Canada to turn back thousands of asylum seekers, but with little success.

Blair, Toronto’s former police chief, has also helmed the government’s legalization of cannabis, which comes into effect in October.

Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto, additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by James Dalgleish