The Liberal government has broad approval from Canadians for its refugee policy, but is testing the limits of that support as a sizable minority already feels the country is taking in too many asylum seekers, a poll from Angus Reid Institute says.

The federal government plans to take in 40,000 refugees this year, down from 55,800 in 2016, despite concerns about U.S. President Donald Trump’s tough line on refugees and other immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

In a poll released Monday, 47 per cent of respondents said Canada is taking in the right number of refugees, while 41 per cent said the number is already too high. Only 11 per cent of the 1,508 adults surveyed said the country should increase the number of refugees coming to Canada.

Over all, 61 per cent of respondents agreed the government has done a good job handling the resettlement of refugees, said Angus Reid Institute (ARI), a non-profit company that produces public-interest research. The online poll was conducted between Feb. 6 and 9.

The survey “finds public opinion is onside with the government’s approach and response to and response on domestic refugee policy, but is showing signs Ottawa may be testing the limits of how many migrants Canadians are willing to accept,” ARI executive director Shachi Kurl said in a release.

Indeed, one quarter of those polled said Canada should have adopted a temporary ban similar to the one that briefly closed U.S. borders to refugees and other immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries. Mr. Trump imposed a four-month ban on immigrants from those seven countries, though a federal court suspended that action.

After the President signed his executive order last month, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said Ottawa would not increase the target for refugee settlements this year, despite concerns across Canada about Mr. Trump’s planned four-month ban.

The administration’s perceived hostility to Muslim refugees has led to a surge of asylum seekers crossing the Canadian border into Manitoba and Quebec.

Ms. Kurl said Canada’s openness to refugees, particularly from predominantly Muslim countries, has become a wedge issue that federal parties are all looking to exploit for partisan reasons.

Among Conservative voters, 62 per cent of poll respondents said the number of refugees being accepted is already too high and should be reduced. Liberal and NDP voters were more likely to say Canada is taking in “about the right number,” though even among supporters of those parties, roughly 30 per cent said the figure is too high.

“These numbers push back against a narrative being put forward in some quarters that Canadians have an unlimited capacity to accept and welcome refugees,” Ms. Kurl said. “It’s more than a fringe when one in four Canadians tell us they would have preferred to have seen a Trump-style travel ban or at least a suspension of refugee acceptance.”

The survey also suggested many Canadians are concerned about how well refugees are integrating into neighbourhoods. As of Jan. 29, 2017, Ottawa had accepted 40,081 Syrians under the Liberal resettlement program.

Despite an outpouring of community support for Syrian sponsorships and settlement effort, some 38 per cent of respondents to the ARI poll said people in their neighbourhood would not welcome refugees moving in. And 54 per cent agreed with the statement that “too many refugees don’t make enough of an effort to fit into mainstream Canadian society.”

Ms. Kurl suggested the polarization is evident in the opposition of many Conservative MPs to a motion by the Liberal government condemning Islamophobia, as well as in the rhetoric over “Canadian values” and immigration employed in the party’s leadership race.

MPs are set to vote this week on the motion that condemns Islamophobia and other religious discrimination, a resolution that took on heightened significance after the attack on a Quebec City mosque last month that left six people dead and 19 injured.

The Ontario Liberal government is set to debate a similar Islamophobia motion this week.

OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail
Published Monday, Feb. 20, 2017 8:00AM EST
Last updated Monday, Feb. 20, 2017 8:00AM EST