Conservative Party leadership candidate Kellie Leitch took aim at Mexican asylum seekers and the Trudeau government on Thursday, invoking the Harper-era notion of "bogus" refugees.
Leitch, who served in former prime minister Stephen Harper's Cabinet, blamed the Trudeau government for an increase in detained asylum seekers, in an email and Facebook post to her supporters on April 6.
Under the Harper government, Canada imposed visa requirements on travelers from Mexico, that the government said at the time was to reduce refugee claims from Mexican citizens in Canada.
In her Facebook post and email, Leitch writes:
"We knew it would happen.
When the Trudeau Liberals lifted the visa requirement on visitors from Mexico, we knew it would lead to an increase in bogus refugee claims. And it has.
As of March 9, 444 refugee claimants had been detained by the government in 2017 — more than in all of 2016.
This poorly thought out policy — designed to make Justin Trudeau look good, rather than do the right thing — is costing us more.
Leitch goes on to say that the Liberal government approved $12 million in additional funding to deal with "bogus Mexican refugee claims" and that it would cost hundreds of millions over the next 10 years, "with no benefit for Canadians."
Leitch argued the Harper-era tighter travel requirements for Mexican citizens had "no negative impact" on tourism in Canada. Asylum seekers in Canada have been on the rise in recent months. Hundreds of asylum seekers have crossed the U.S.-Canada border illegally seeking asylum in 2017, while others travel to Canada as visitors and later apply for asylum at government offices.
Some have blamed this increase in activity on U.S. President Donald Trump's attempt to impose restrictions on the entry of people from certain countries to the United States. The Canadian government said last month it was too soon to tell if it was a trend.
In response to Leitch's criticism, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale's spokesman Scott Bardsley said Leitch is "out of touch with reality" on her tourism claim.
"According to the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, the number of Mexicans visiting Canada plummeted by 50 per cent after its implementation," wrote Bardsley in an emailed response.
He said by the tourism associations' estimate, Canada lost out on $465 million from Mexican tourists during the years 2009-2014 as a result of the visa requirement.
Bardsley wrote that while Mexican visitors no longer need visas, they now require an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) to fly to or transit through Canada, which he said maintained robust border controls. But he didn't dispute Leitch's message that a much larger number of Mexicans were claiming asylum in Canada since the Trudeau government lifted its visa requirement for Mexico.
Leitch's proposal to reinstate the Mexican visa requirement was met mostly with support on Facebook, though some said they have nothing against Mexicans and would prefer that Canada shut out Muslim refugees instead.
Leitch sparked controversy over her leadership campaign platform plank to screen visitors and immigrants to Canada for 'Canadian values', such as whether they believe women are equal to men.
Critics have pointed to potential problems with Leitch's proposal to screen for values such as gender equality. In April 2016, Leitch and 90 Conservative MPs opted not to back an NDP motion on addressing the gender wage gap in Canada.
Fellow Conservative Party leadership candidates, including front-runner Maxime Bernier and Michael Chong, criticized Leitch over her proposed "values test," calling it an "unworkable" way to examine people's beliefs.