Trudeau’s Immigration Crossroads

By: Laura Steiner

Sometimes it seems like this federal government dedicates itself to being as irritatingly Canadian as humanly possible.  Welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees, check.  Announce a new foreign policy that dedicates itself to the principles symbolized by NATO, and the U.N., and a new defence policy that would back it up in the same week? got that too.   A new feminist-driven foreign aid policy check.  A gender-equal cabinet, check.  The Trudeau government effectively uses its actions to illustrate how different it is from the new Trump administration

Since January, those efforts have run into some bumps.  In January Trudeau  tweeted: ” To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength.”  On one level, if the Canadian philosophy were distilled to 140 characters, this is it.  In hindsight, it’s becoming a problem.  Over 1,000 Haitians have crossed into Quebec in July; a response to rumblings that the Trump Administration is about to lift protected status granted following the 2010 earthquake. That move could effect as man as 58,000 people.

Recent numbers indicate entries into Manitoba peaked at 146 in April before dropping to 106 in May.  410 people were intercepted near Emerson between April, and December of last year.  The influx has caused a dispute between the province and federal government over the question of how many people walking across the border are actually staying in the province. Meanwhile in Quebec, Montreal has declared itself a sanctuary city.  The Olympic stadium hosts between 450-500 asylum seekers.  The Canadian Armed forces have set up a camp near the border that would temporarily house 500.  “The people coming now irregularly will still have to go through all the proper processes,” Trudeau said last week according to the CBC.

These border crossings violate what’s known as the safe third party agreement.  This means those seeking refugee status must claim it in the first country they arrive in; those who arrive in Canada, claim Canada, and those in the USA claim America.  The loophole here is that it’s only applicable at official border-crossings. If an unguarded, open area is crossed, most are taken by the RCMP to official checkpoints for processing. The RCMP can charge those crossing with illegal entry, but so far has chosen not do so.

It’s time to make a choice between pulling out of the Safe Third Country Agreement, or not.  Because this half in, and half option that seems to be happening here isn’t working.  Withdrawal would be dangerous, because it could mean a continuous stream of people coming through all border crossings claiming refugee status.   It means stretching an already overworked immigration system.  The Conservatives have questioned the ability to provide the resources necessary to help immigrants adjust to Canada.  Withdrawal would be a virtual condemnation of Trump’s policies.  It might be a weapon for use at the NAFTA negotiation table.

Trudeau finds himself at an immigration crossroads of his own making.