Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is promising to end illegal border crossings by asylum seekers entering Canada outside official points, and says his government would focus on economic immigration and helping to protect the refugees in greatest danger.
Holding a campaign event this morning at Roxham Road in Quebec, an unofficial border crossing that has become a flashpoint in Canada’s immigration debate, Scheer said the flow of people coming to Canada outside border points has led to a “crisis in confidence” in the immigration system.
“For Canadians to have faith in the immigration system, the rules have to be followed and the laws have to be enforced. As prime minister, that’s exactly what I will do,” he said.
Between January and August this year, RCMP intercepted 10,343 people entering the country from the U.S. outside legal border points, the vast majority of them at Roxham Road. That’s down from 14,125 in the same period in 2018.
As part of the Conservative clampdown, Scheer said his government would hire 250 new Canada Border Services Agency officers, deploy more Immigration and Refugee Board judges to “hotspots” to expedite claims, and closely monitor criminal groups that pose a threat to Canada, including MS-13 gang members.
U.S. President Donald Trump has long railed against the violent international street gang MS-13, using the threat it poses to justify the construction of a southern border wall.
Asked why he was raising the spectre of MS-13, Scheer said it is crucial for law enforcement to track people with criminal backgrounds trying to enter the country.
“We want to make sure that when people come into Canada, we are putting the safety and security of Canadians first. That is paramount,” he said.
During a campaign event in Markham, Ont. ahead of Scheer’s announcement, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said he’s pleased that people will have an opportunity to see the infrastructure the Liberal government built to screen and process new arrivals. But he stressed there are no “shortcuts” in Canada’s immigration system and everyone is subject to the same rules.
“There are no skipping steps with our immigration system. Everyone arriving in Canada goes through the same immigration system, a full, rigorous immigration system that is being applied,” he said.
Trudeau said Canada continues to work with partners in the U.S. and around the world to spread that message, and talks continue on a possible update to the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA).
That agreement requires that asylum seekers make their claim for protection in the first safe country they arrive in. The agreement makes an exception for those who arrive in Canada outside of official border points.
Trudeau said Canadians remain in favour of immigration because they understand it benefits the economy and their communities.
“It only stays positively supported by Canadians because they have confidence that our immigration system works. And it works,” he said.
Scheer said he would close the “loophole” in the STCA by negotiating with the U.S. for a new deal that benefits both countries. Asked how he would do that if the U.S. doesn’t agree, Scheer said an updated STCA is his “preferred course of action” but that he would also explore other options to seal the border.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said his party would suspend the STCA so that migrants would not need to to cross outside of the official border points.
“These are people that are fleeing death. They’re fleeing persecution. And in the States, they’re fleeing the fact that Mr. Trump has been putting kids in cages, has been stripping babies out of the arms of their mothers,” he said.
“Of course they’re afraid and they’re fleeing what they know is a scary situation in the States. And so right now they have no other recourse but to cross irregularly.”