CBSA has increased deportations, though removals of irregular asylum seekers remain low

Some useful numbers in this update:

The Canada Border Services Agency has ramped up deportations of failed refugee claimants and other foreign nationals and permanent residents who have lost the right to stay in Canada, amid concerns about the ability of Canada’s asylum system to respond quickly to spikes in refugee claims.

Removals from Canada have dropped significantly in the last several years, from more than 19,000 people in 2012-13 to around 8,000 in recent years. But that number climbed to roughly 9,500 people in 2018-19, following an internal effort to speed up the pace of deportations.

Despite the overall increase, the numbers remain low for removals of failed irregular asylum seekers — those who enter Canada from the U.S. between official border crossings, but who are unsuccessful in claiming refugee status — even though Ottawa has said it is prioritizing their removal.

A spokesperson for Border Security Minister Bill Blair told the National Post that anyone to be deported from Canada is given due process. “But once legal avenues have been exhausted, individuals are expected to respect our laws and leave Canada, or as per our commitments, be removed,” said Marie-Emmanuelle Cadieux in an email. “We are re-investing in the agency to ensure that processing continues to happen in a manner that is fair, fast and final.”

Last fall, the CBSA confirmed it had set a target of 10,000 removals for the 2018-19 fiscal year, a notable increase over the previous three years, when removals ranged from 7,900 to 8,600. At the time, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said the agency needed to “pick up the pace” of removals, and pointed to $7.5 million in funding allocated to the CBSA in Budget 2018. “We’ve provided some extra resources for CBSA to do the work that’s necessary,” Goodale said. The agency has now confirmed it removed a total of 9,584 people last year.

Backlogs in Canada’s immigration system have been the subject of increased scrutiny since an influx of asylum seekers began crossing the Canada-U.S. border between official ports of entry after the 2016 election of U.S. President Donald Trump. Since January 2017, about 45,000 people have entered Canada in this way, using a loophole in the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement that generally requires asylum seekers to make a refugee claim in whichever country they get to first.

In May, the auditor general found that Canada’s asylum system is unable to cope with such surges, with refugee claimants waiting two years for decisions on their claims. The backlog of asylum seekers numbered about 75,000 at the time and will likely continue to grow. However, the number of people entering Canada illegally has dropped considerably, and is currently only half what it was at this time last year.

The government is taking steps to speed up the entire system, from claim hearings to removals. Budget 2019 earmarked $1.18 billion over five years for border security and processing of asylum claims.

The CBSA also says it is now prioritizing the removal of irregular asylum seekers whose claims have been denied, as it does people who are deemed threats to national security or who are involved in organized crime, crimes against humanity or other types of criminal activity. However, Canada has still deported only a small minority of the tens of thousands of irregular asylum seekers who’ve entered the country in the last two years. According to figures the CBSA provided to the Post, the agency removed just 723 irregular migrants with failed refugee claims between April 1, 2017 and June 21, 2019.

This is largely because asylum seekers must exhaust all legal avenues of appeal before they can be removed, which takes time. The agency also pointed to a number of other factors that can delay removals, including the fact that Canada temporarily halts removals to countries in armed conflict or experiencing environmental disasters — such measures are currently in place for Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Iraq. A lack of valid travel documents and medical issues can also delay removals.

“The CBSA is firmly committed to meeting its mandate under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to conduct removals as soon as possible,” a spokesperson told the Post in an email, adding that the agency has increased staffing levels and improved co-ordination with other branches of the immigration system to speed up removals. The agency said there are currently just under 3,000 people with an “actionable removal order” in Canada, meaning with no barrier to deportation.

Still, Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, said setting quotas for deportations like the CBSA’s target of 10,000 removals can be problematic. “One of the concerns is who ends up being a priority for removal,” she said. When border officers are given targets they need to meet, there’s an incentive to prioritize families over criminals because officials can remove a number of people at once, often with less effort, she said.

Dench said the removal process can often feel arbitrary, with some people getting calls from the CBSA almost immediately, while others wait years before being asked to leave.

Source: CBSA has increased deportations, though removals of irregular asylum seekers remain low

A growing source of Canadian asylum-seekers: US citizens whose parents were born elsewhere

Sean Rehaag, who has done some good work analyzing trends of decision making by IRB adjudicators, looks at the recent rise in the number of asylum seekers from the US:

Jokes about moving to Canada became common among progressives in the United States during Donald Trump’s presidential bid. When he won, a spike in U.S. citizens seeking information about how to relocate crashed Canada’s immigration website.

I’m a scholar of Canadian immigration law and will soon become the director of the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University in Toronto. My friends and colleagues in the United States, who still make those jokes, are often surprised when I fill them in on how U.S. immigration patterns in Canada have changed during the Trump administration.

Overall, the number of U.S. citizens who have immigrated to Canada for any reason rose from 7,522 in 2015 to 9,100 in 2017. In contrast with this modest 21% increase, the number of U.S. citizens applying for refugee protection during the same two years spiked by more than 1,000%. It grew from 69 in 2015 to as much as 869 in 2017.

The more than 1,500 U.S citizens who have sought a safe haven in Canada are mainly the children of people fearing deportation due to a change of their immigration status after spending years in the United States. Even with the recent increase, they still account for a small share of total applicants for refugee protection in Canada – only 1% in 2018, for example. Nonetheless, the dramatic growth in the number of refugee claims by U.S. citizens illustrates some of the differences between Canadian and U.S. immigration policies.

Long history

People from the U.S. have been seeking asylum in Canada since at least the 18th century.

Fearing mistreatment in the newly established United States, and drawn by offers of free land, as many as 100,000 British Loyalists fled to what is now Canada during and after the American Revolution.

Many enslaved people seeking liberty via the Underground Railroad, prior to the Civil War, headed to Canada. Around 20,000 to 40,000 made lives for themselves there.

In the 1960s and 1970s, some 100,000 young U.S. men, many with wives and children, came to Canada during the Vietnam War to avoid being drafted into military service – or in some cases after deserting. Canada enacted a law that let these “draft dodgers” immigrate with lawful status. Even though President Jimmy Carter issued a blanket pardon for them when he took office, about half remained in Canada.

More recently, dozens of U.S. soldiers who had voluntarily enlisted in the military and served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan sought asylum in Canada to avoid jail time when they deserted because they came to object to those wars. This time, the Canadian government denied most of their refugee claims, saying that they could have possibly qualified for conscientious objector status back home. However, the Canadian public expressed substantial support for these war resisters.

Change of status

The more recent wave of asylum applicants is related to changes in U.S. immigration policy.

Before Trump took office, the U.S. had granted hundreds of thousands of immigrants without papers from Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti, El Salvador and other countries temporary protected status. These policies protected formerly undocumented immigrants from deportation and let them work legally.

The Trump administration has tried to end temporary protected status for eligible immigrants of many nationalities, despite evidence that many of their countries remained dangerous or their economies were still too unstable for them to return.

For example, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an autonomous agency of the Organization of American States, asserts that Nicaragua operates as “police state” with government-sponsored repression that is resulting in hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries. The UN Refugee Agency estimates that 62,000 Nicaraguans have fled to neighboring countries in the past year.

For now, the fate of about 300,000 of these immigrants from multiple countries awaits resolution in the courts.

A big share of the families with U.S. citizen-children seeking asylum in Canada today are immigrants from Haiti and other countries who fear losing their temporary protected status. Some people with this status from Nicaragua and Honduras have had it since 1999. Qualifying Sudanese immigrants have been shielded from deportation since 1997. The U.S. granted 59,000 Haitians temporary protected status in 2010, following a big earthquake.

Canada will probably deny the refugee claims of the U.S. citizen children because the system requires applicants to prove a well-founded fear of persecution in their country of origin. In this case, that would be the United States rather than, say, Haiti, Sudan or El Salvador.

But parents who obtain refugee protection in Canada will be able to obtain permanent residence for their children as well, putting them on the path to citizenship in Canada. Many likely will succeed with their claims. Canada approved about half of the refugee claims made in 2018after migrants crossed the U.S. border.

Indeed, some of the families with U.S. citizen children seeking asylum in Canada may figure that they are more likely to succeed in Canada than in the U.S. For example, Canadian refugee law is more permissive than U.S. asylum law for people fleeing gender-based violence or gang violence – both common types of claims for Central American asylum-seekers.

Different policies

Canadian and U.S. immigration policies have always been distinct but the contrast is becoming more stark.

Trump campaigned on an anti-immigrant agenda, while Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised voters he would increase the number of resettled Syrian refugees welcomed in Canada. On the same day that Trump first decreed a Muslim travel ban, Trudeau famously tweeted out his hospitality: “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith.”

Under Trudeau’s leadership, the Canadian government has decided to boost the number of immigrants it grants permanent resident status yearly, from 286,000 in 2017 to 340,00 in 2020.

The U.S., with a population that is nearly nine times bigger than its northern neighbor, grants permanent resident status to 1.1 million newcomers. The Trump administration is trying to overhaul the nation’s immigration policy in ways that could cut that number considerably and it has slashed refugee admissions. In April 2019, Trump addressed the rising number of asylum-seekers arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. “We can’t take you anymore,” he said. “Our country is full.”

As long as these sorts of divergences persist, I believe that immigrants who have been living in the United States for years, some with children who are U.S. citizens, will keep coming to Canada seeking asylum.

Source: A growing source of Canadian asylum-seekers: US citizens whose parents were born elsewhere

Irregular asylum claims in Canada drop nearly 50% from last year

Ironic, given the government’s plan to close the STCA loophole for those entering Canada outside regular border posts. And of course, still too early to see if this trend continues for the balance of the year:

The number of asylum-seekers crossing the border “irregularly” into Canada has slowed compared to early last year.

Statistics published by the federal government show the RCMP apprehended 3,944 irregular migrants between official border crossings in the first third of this year.

That’s a 48-per-cent decline compared to the more than 7,600 irregular border crossers intercepted between January and April 2018.

Despite this, Darrell Bricker of the polling firm Ipsos Public Affairs says data shows Canadians are increasingly concerned over immigration levels in Canada, due in large part to the influx of irregular migrants.

He and other experts who took part in an immigration summit in Ottawa last week are warning against rising populist sentiments that could harden Canadian attitudes against newcomers.

Fen Hampson, executive director of the World Refugee Council, says a key concern is that the public doesn’t differentiate between refugees and economic immigrants — and that Canadians may not realize Canada’s refugee influx is nothing compared to the migrant crises facing other countries.

Source: Irregular asylum claims in Canada drop nearly 50% from last year

Pollsters point to rising public racism, Quebec seats to explain Liberals’ U-turn on refugees

More takes on the change in approach:

The Liberal government’s move to toughen up the refugee system is a signal to voters that fairness is the party’s priority when it comes to foreigners entering the country, says a former Liberal insider, and it could be part of an attempt to outmanoeuvre the Bloc Québécois, or win over ex-Liberal voters who don’t want more people of colour in Canada, say pollsters.

The government wants to send a message to Canadians that migrants who cross the border between official points of entry to make a refugee claim will be treated the same as those who make a claim at a recognized entry point, said John Delacourt, a vice-president at Ensight Canada and former director of communications in the Liberal Research Bureau.

“That is the line I think that ultimately resonates here. ‘There will be no privileged treatment; it will be fair for everybody,’” said Mr. Delacourt.

Thus far, would-be refugees have been able to exploit a loophole in Canada’s international commitments, and make a claim for refugee status after crossing the border between official points of entry from the United States, while those who try to claim status at official border crossings are generally immediately rejected under the Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S., which says a person seeking refugee protection has to do it at the first safe country they reach.

The government has been defending itself from near-constant criticism from the Conservative opposition for the past two years over its handling of the loophole, and the flow of thousands of migrants into Canada because of it. Those migrants have been given security, health, and safety checks by Canadian officials, then allowed to proceed into Canada’s urban centres to pursue a refugee claim.

Statistics from the Immigration and Refugee Board show that 38,646 claims were made by “irregular” border crossers between February 2017 and December 2018. Only 9,330 have been dealt with so far by the IRB, which has accepted a little less than half of them as valid claims, while the other half were rejected, withdrawn, or abandoned.

The government stick-handled the issue for nearly two years without major changes to the policy or legal framework, but changed tack with its 2019 budget last month and budget implementation bill earlier this month, which will block asylum seekers from making a refugee claim in Canada if they have already had a claim rejected in another country that Canada deems safe, including the U.S., a practice Border Security Minister Bill Blair (Scarborough Southwest, Ont.) called “asylum shopping.”

The 2019 budget described the change as an effort to “better manage, discourage, and prevent irregular migration.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) told reporters April 10 that his government wants to ensure Canadians have “confidence in our asylum system, our refugee system” when asked about the changes. He said the change to government policy was a response to an increase in refugee claimants caused by global instability.

The government has also moved to renegotiate the Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S. Canada wants to change the pact to close the loophole surrounding claims at non-official points of entry.

Mr. Trudeau’s government made international headlines in 2015 when it agreed to welcome 25,000 Syrians fleeing war in their country within a span of months. The sudden influx of border-crossers from the United States, however—many of them originating in Haiti and Nigeria—has put his government on the defensive over refugee policy since early 2017.

Canadian attitudes toward migrants have shifted dramatically over the past few years, said pollster Frank Graves, the president of Ekos Research.

“What we’re seeing in the public is that the attitudes to immigration, and particularly to things like visible-minority immigration, are becoming incredibly polarized in ways that they were not in the past,” he said.

“Attitudes toward immigration broadly, which includes refugees and asylum seekers, is now becoming a sorting variable…which is frankly kind of unprecedented in Canadian political history. We don’t usually make ballot-booth decisions on the basis of immigration policy.”

Mr. Graves said Ekos has done analysis that suggested to him that Liberal policies on refugees and immigrants had driven people who voted Liberal in 2015 to begin supporting the Conservative Party—specifically some non-university-educated, working-class males who believe “too many” of the immigrants who come to Canada are visible minorities.

“That view is shifting voters in ways that it never has before,” he said.

Nearly 40 per cent of respondents to an Ekos telephone poll of 1,045 Canadian adults between April 3 and 11 said that “too many” of the immigrants coming to Canada were visible minorities. Just shy of 43 per cent said an “about right” share of immigrants were visible minorities, while 11.5 per cent said “too few.”

Former Liberal immigration minister John McCallum reacted to Mr. Graves’ polling figures on Twitter April 13, writing, “Such a dangerous shift from when I was managing Syrian refugees and challenge was we couldn’t bring them in fast enough to satisfy sponsors. Only 3 years ago!”

Of those who said “too many” immigrants were racialized people, nearly 69 per cent identified as Conservative supporters, versus 15.2 per cent for the Liberal Party, and 27 per cent for the NDP. The margin for error for the poll itself was plus or minus three percentage points, 19 times out of 20, but the margins of error for the party-identification figures for that specific question were higher—between seven and 14 per cent—because the sample size shrinks when respondents are divided into smaller groups.

Some Canadians have been waiting years for their parents or grandparents to be allowed to come to Canada through the immigration system, but Canadians often conflate refugee and immigration issues, though they are considered as separate streams of migrants by the government, said Mr. Delacourt, who also worked as a staffer in the office of former Liberal immigration minister Joe Volpe in the early 2000s.

“They’re very different streams, and anybody who actually has a strong sense of policy in this area will tell you, ‘That’s mixing apples and oranges,’ in terms of the priorities and planning. But to Canadians, the optics … people do not see individual streams here. They see a strain on resources,” Mr. Delacourt said.

Border Security Minister Bill Blair has said the government’s move to block asylum seekers from making a refugee claim in Canada if they have already had a claim rejected in another country that Canada deems safe is meant to stop ‘asylum shopping.’ The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

“I think part of the government’s course correction on this is about addressing this larger perspective on what’s ultimately fair. Of course, they’re not going to sacrifice what’s fair for individuals who are coming across, case by case. Of course everyone is going to get all the protection one deserves. But by the same token, there is this real concern that the optics of irregular migration creating a strain on resources. It’s not where a government going into an election campaign is going to think it’s a good idea,” said Mr. Delacourt.

The Liberals are likely worried about damage done by the spread of false information or misinformation about their work on the refugee file during the upcoming campaign, said Mr. Delacourt, pointing to a September report by the Canadian International Council that said there was “mounting evidence” of Russian troll accounts on social media spreading disinformation about positions on asylum seekers and refugees in Canadian politics.

The Liberal decision to get tougher on refugee policy could also be motivated by expected battles with the Bloc Québécois in smaller towns, cities, and rural areas in Quebec in the upcoming election, said pollster Greg Lyle, the president of Innovative Research.

More than half of Canadian adults surveyed in an Innovative poll in September said the government was “not aggressive enough” in its approach to immigrants crossing into Canada illegally, while six per cent said it was being “too aggressive,” 26 per cent said it was “acting appropriately,” and 15 per cent said they didn’t know.

The online poll surveyed 2,410 adult Canadians who were part of online research panels between Sept. 27 and Oct. 1. Online polls are not considered truly random, so a margin of error for the poll can’t be calculated.

Forty per cent of Liberal Party supporters said the government was not being aggressive enough on that issue, according to the poll, and 57 per cent of respondents in Quebec. “That, to me, is the big deal,” said Mr. Lyle.

More than 70 per cent of those surveyed said that “the issue of immigrants who are crossing into Canada illegally right now” was a serious problem, including 65 per cent of Liberal supporters, and 81 per cent of respondents in Quebec.

The Bloc Québécois is doing well in the regions of the province, said Mr. Lyle, and will differentiate itself from the Grits by opposing oil and gas pipelines, and contrasting its position with the Liberal government’s purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline. The Bloc will also likely take a more “nationalist” approach to immigration policy, he said.

“It’s a very critical area for the Liberals to do well in. Moving on the migrant issue…shuts down that vulnerability.”

Source: Pollsters point to rising public racism, Quebec seats to explain Liberals …

Coyne, Patriquin and Furey: On the reversal on asylum seekers

Both Coyne and Patriquin being harshly critical and not appearing to believe that asylum shopping is a serious issue, the Globe and columnists like Furey  appear to be supportive of the government’s change in approach. Starting with Coyne:

Naturally, they put it in an omnibus bill.

Buried deep inside the 392 pages of Bill C-97, the budget implementation bill, is a package of amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that would turn decades of Canadian refugee policy on its head.

The changes would disqualify from consideration refugee claimants who had previously made claims in “a country other than Canada.” (Also ineligible: those whose claims had already been rejected in Canada, or who had been granted refugee protection elsewhere.) What is more, this would apply even to those already on our soil, seeking asylum.

Ever since the Supreme Court’s landmark 1985 ruling in Singh v. Canada, refugee claimants under the protection of Canadian law cannot be deported without having their case heard before an independent tribunal — a recognition of the serious, possibly fatal consequences of sending a genuine refugee, with a “well-founded fear of persecution,” back to his country of origin. Under the new policy, the best that those affected could hope for would be an interview with an immigration official, as part of a “preremoval risk assessment.”

All this came as a complete surprise to refugee advocates. The only mention of it in the budget the bill claims to be implementing was this cryptic remark on p. 326: “The government proposes to introduce legislative amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to better manage, discourage and prevent irregular migration.”

They could hardly have guessed what this would turn out to mean. The changes not only go far beyond the existing Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States, which allows Canada to turn back claimants arriving at official points of entry on our southern border — not once they have already crossed — but would extend it to a number of other countries with whom Canada has immigration “information-sharing” agreements.

Understand: the people whose claims Canada would summarily reject in this fashion would not necessarily have had their claims assessed and rejected by another country – it would be enough that they had made a claim. They would face deportation, what is more, not to the country in which they had earlier made their claim, but to their country of origin, to meet whatever fate awaited them there. All this, without even the right to an independent hearing.

This sort of draconian shift in policy would be shocking coming from any government; among other objections, the courts are almost certain to rule it is a violation of the Charter of Rights. But to find it proposed by the same Liberal government that had long congratulated itself for its commitment to refugee rights, while castigating critics as intolerant, racist and worse, is simply breathtaking.

This is not just the most extraordinary about-face yet — from #WelcomeToCanada to deportations without hearings, in the space of two years — from a government that has made a habit of them. It is a fundamental breach of faith.

“We will restore Canada’s reputation,” the Liberals boasted in the refugees section of their 2015 election platform, “and help more people in need through a program that is safe, secure and humane.”

“Canada once welcomed refugees openly,” it goes on, “but that proud history has faded after a decade of mismanagement under Stephen Harper. We will renew and expand our commitment to helping resettle more refugees, and deliver a refugee program that is safe, secure and humane.”

But that was then, and the refugees that made such useful props for Justin Trudeau in the last election have become an obstacle to his chances in the next, in the face of relentless Tory fear-mongering about the “crisis” on our border. So, over the side they go.

That this was accomplished via yet another mammoth omnibus bill compounds the sense of betrayal. The 2015 Liberal platform also denounced the Harper government for its use of omnibus bills “to prevent Parliament from properly reviewing and debating his proposals,” vowing to “bring an end” to “this undemocratic practice.”

When the bill comes to a vote, moreover, Liberal MPs will inevitably be whipped to support it — as a budget bill, after all, it is an automatic confidence matter. This turns yet another Liberal campaign pledge inside out.

The platform had promised that MPs would be free to vote as they pleased on virtually all questions; outside of confidence matters, the whips would be applied only to votes that “implement the Liberal electoral platform” or that touch on “the protections guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” In this case, MPs will be whipped to vote for a bill that contradicts the platform and runs roughshod over Charter guarantees.

Mere hypocrisy or breach of faith, however, would not suffice to condemn the Liberal changes, if they were otherwise well-advised. It would be obtuse to hold a government to the course it had set out on, however disastrous, just for the sake of a foolish consistency. Those Conservatives who are now attacking the Liberals for adopting the very positions for which they had previously attacked the Conservatives – on top of the changes in the omnibus bill, the government was earlier reported to be in negotiations with the United States to extend the Safe Third Country Agreement to the entire border — are entitled, perhaps, to gloat. They are not entitled to claim vindication.

No, what is wrong about the new Liberal policy is not that it is hypocritical, but simply that it is wrong: arbitrary, inhumane, and vastly unnecessary. There is no emergency that could possibly justify rejecting refugee claimants out of hand, solely on the basis of having made a prior claim, — “asylum-shopping,” the Border Security minister, Bill Blair, called it, without apparent sense of shame — still less deporting them without a hearing. The numbers of those crossing the U.S.-Canada border irregularly are falling, not rising.

The emergency, rather, would appear to be in the falling numbers of those telling pollsters they intend to vote Liberal. For what is the risk of sending innocent people to their deaths, when there are marginal seats in peril?

From Patriquin:
As a term, “asylum shopping” is probably worthy of scare quotes. Though it’s not quite as loaded as “chain migration”— a term usually used to inspire fear of an unchecked immigrant invasion — it nonetheless invokes those darker stereotypes often ascribed to migrants. These people aren’t running from an immediate danger, you see. They’re seeking asylum in multiple countries, probing for the weakest point, if only to steal our jobs and harvest the bounty from our social safety net.

“Asylum shopping” didn’t tumble from the lips of Bill Blair, the Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Minister — at least, not entirely. Nonetheless, he was the picture of consternation at the allegedly pervasive practice.

“We don’t want them shopping and making application in multiple countries. What we’re trying to do is to make sure the system is fair and efficient for those who truly need our protection,” Blair said this week. Cracking down on asylum shopping is a key part of the government’s $1.2 billion effort to reduce the number of would-be migrants coming into the country.

Fair enough.

The number of asylum seekers has nearly tripled since 2016, and addressing the issue, or at least further girding the system to deal with its reality, is a certainly a legitimate government goal. The problem is the rhetoric that Blair and others have attached to it. By first politicizing the idea of “asylum shopping,” then quickly promising to do something about it, the Trudeau government has shown how desperation tends to breed rank hypocrisy.

The latter-day Liberals are proof of the axiom that in politics, you inevitably become what you once professed to hate. Imagine the conspicuous indignation that would have emanated from 2015-vintage Liberal Party ranks had the Conservative government cooked up, in the crucible of Stephen Harper’s all-powerful PMO, a plot to try and override the country’s independent judiciary by jettisoning a certain Quebec-based engineering firm from likely legal catastrophe.

And yet in 2019, four years after winning an election by way of promises to do away with such Conservative overindulgences, the Liberals did just this — and through an all-powerful PMO of the type Trudeau himself vowed to dismantle, no less.

Though more visceral a topic, the government’s “asylum shopping” gambit nonetheless comes at the tail end of a similarly tortured ideological climbdown. The 2015-era Liberals chided the Conservative’s apparently heartless response to the Syrian refugee crisis.

“You don’t get to suddenly discover compassion in the middle of an election campaign,” Trudeau said of the Harper government’s reaction to the drowning death of Alan Kurdi, whose tiny body washed up on a Turkish beach.

Trudeau, Trudeau assured us, would do better. And to his great credit, he made good by allowing some 25,000 Syrian refugees into the country. About two years later, he became a notably photogenic counterpoint to Trumpian nativism by welcoming “those fleeing persecution, terror and war” by way of Twitter, just as The Donald was wishing them gone. Conservative criticism on migration was nothing short of “fear mongering,” as Trudeau put it late last year.

Ah, but that was before the churn of the next election cycle and the Liberal government’s increasing desperation in the wake of the SNC-Lavalin fallout, not to mention the corresponding bump in Conservative fortunes. The Trudeau government’s migration bon mots belie a certain truth: the steady tide of asylum seekers from the U.S. has eroded the Canadian welcome mat, according to a comprehensive Angus Reid poll conducted earlier this year.

This enduring and widespread sentiment is directly at odds with the Trudeau government’s pro-migrant spiel, peddled for the last four years. So as we approach the October election, the government has simply changed its tune, from “Canadians will welcome you” and “diversity is strength,” to “fair and efficient” and “asylum shopping.”

For any government, delegitimizing the plight of migrants is crass, bottom-feeder politicking. For the Liberals, whose rise to power was meant to be a rebuke to this kind of thing, it is even worse — particularly considering how asylum shopping isn’t a particularly widespread problem, as the CBC’s Kathleen Harris pointed out this week.

It’s just further evidence that the convictions of the current government ebb and flow with its re-election prospects.

Source: Delegitimizing the plight of migrants is crass, bottom-feeder politicking

From Furey (who no longer appears to be working for the Sun and features regularly with the online True North of former Conservative staffers and candidates):

Finally! The Liberals have done something to deal with the unsustainable influx of people crossing illegally into Canada, mostly at the Roxham Road crossing along the Quebec border.

The data shows that for both 2017 and 2018 there was a near constant flow of approximately 20,000 people per year. It was a troubling figure and one that showed no signs of decreasing. Thankfully the numbers for January and February of 2019 have shown a decrease but there’s no guarantee the numbers won’t rise again.

While refugee advocates wanted to characterize everyone crossing as genuine refugees fleeing war and famine, there was little evidence to support that.

The majority of asylum claimants came from Haiti and Nigeria – two countries that Canadians certainly wouldn’t consider ideal places to live but aren’t facing major wars displacing people and aren’t ravaged by recent natural disasters. All indication was that these were economic migrants – people who simply wanted to move to Canada. You can’t blame them, Canada’s a pretty great country, but there are rules and processes in place to come here and those need to be followed.

For two years, groups like True North, conservative politicians, various pundits and members of the legal community pointed all of this out, how it’s unsustainable and how there needs to be changes, and the Liberal response was to cry “racist” and other nasty labels.

Good luck with that strategy, I’d always thought.

The various polls over the years showed the majority of people didn’t support what was happening at the border. And there was no way they were going to buy into this cynical messaging that opposing legal immigration was somehow a wholesale racist statement. Meanwhile, recent immigrants and others whose family members were still waiting in the legal queue weren’t happy either.

It looks like the Liberals have realized that despite their Social Justice Warrior inclination towards open borders, the rest of the public aren’t going along with it. Maybe because they’re finally clued in or because of the upcoming election, they’ve decided to do something about it.

Buried within the 2019 budget omnibus bill are changes to the asylum system that aim to deny people have had an asylum claim already rejected in the United States (and other safe third countries such as the U.K.) from then going on to make one in Canada.

It’s to prevent what Border Security Minister Bill Blair calls asylum shopping. This means they wouldn’t be placed in the multiyear waiting line, where they receive government assistance while waiting to hear if their claim will be accepted. Instead they’ll more likely be fast-tracked for rejection and removal.

This won’t actually put that big of a dent in the numbers as the statistics show only about 10% of the current illegal crossers had previously applied for asylum in the United States.

It’s rather humorous to now watch as refugee lawyers and activists display their outrage towards Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, throwing the same sorts of words at him as he previously tossed at others and also threatening legal challenges.

But still, these changes are something and it’s a move in the right direction.

Here are the questions though: Why didn’t they do it sooner? Is this only for election purposes? Will they keep advancing on this file? And was all the name-calling and divisiveness over the past two years worth it?

Source: READ MORE

Globe editorial: On immigration, the Trudeau Liberals are going off-brand – and hitting the mark

Reasonable balance, as also seen in Ibbitson’s piece (Liberals’ immigration plan is sound policy delivered poorly: John Ibbitson):

Canada needs immigrants. Canada needs secure borders. These may sound like contradictory claims; they are not. They go hand-in-hand.

Over the past couple of weeks, the Trudeau Liberals have abruptly woken up to this reality. They’ve started talks with the United States to close a loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement that allows people who enter Canada at irregular border crossings to make a refugee claim, rather than being turned away. They also introduced legislation – buried in an omnibus budget bill – to make anyone who has filed an asylum claim in the United States and several other countries ineligible to do so in Canada.

The target is the influx of migrants at Roxham Road. Over the past two years, about 40,000 people have walked across the Canada-U.S. border, most on a street that dead-ends where New York stops and Quebec starts. These people are not illegal immigrants; the vast majority willingly surrender to authorities so that they can make an asylum claim, giving them legal status in Canada, including the right to work for as long as it takes an extremely slow and backlogged refugee system to decide on the merits of their claim.

Our refugee system is generous, but it’s also very slow-moving. And it’s breaking down and losing public confidence under the strain of too many people trying to use it. Many appear to be travelling to the United States on tourist visas for the purpose of making a refugee claim in Canada.

The Liberals’ latest steps to address this risk is damaging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s brand. His government is now doing something that it spent the past three years attacking the Conservatives for even talking about. But though it’s out of sync with the Trudeau government’s previous rhetoric, it’s in line with how Canadian governments of all stripes have dealt with immigration over the past few decades.

Under a series of administrations, Liberal, Progressive Conservative and Conservative, the vast majority of immigrants – whether economic migrants, family-reunification arrivals or refugees – have always been chosen from overseas and only entered Canada after having been vetted. It has been immigration by choice – Canada’s choice.

That’s true, for example, of the influx of Syrian refugees into Canada early in the Trudeau government’s mandate. They chose Canada, but first Canada chose them.

Next to its open immigration door, Canada has long had bureaucratic walls and moats. Canadian governments have consistently taken steps, most of which go largely unnoticed by Canadians, to make it extremely difficult for anyone to come to Canada if there is a risk that person may attempt to remain in the country, whether as an illegal immigrant or as an asylum-seeker.

That’s mostly been about making it very difficult to get to Canadian soil and gain access to the Canadian legal system. To take just one example, a 2017 World Economic Forum survey of travel and tourism professionals ranked Canada as one of the worst countries in the world – 120th out of 136 – for the restrictiveness of visitor visa requirements. But that’s not a bug of Canada’s visa system. It’s a feature.

Compared with our southern neighbour, Canada is a high-immigration country. That’s long been true. Relative to population, Canada takes in roughly three times as many legal immigrants as the United States. And while the number of foreign-born American residents recently hit a high of 13.5 per cent, at no time since the 1901 has Canada’s level of foreign-born residents been that low. Today, 21.9 per cent of Canadians were born overseas.

Compared with our southern neighbour, Canada has also always had low levels of irregular, unauthorized, unexpected and illegal immigration. Washington doesn’t even know how many illegal immigrants the country has; estimates range from 10.7-million to 22-million to nearly 30-million.

That has poisoned the American immigration debate, and made rational immigration discussions almost impossible.

For a growing number of voters and politicians on the American right, all immigration, legal or illegal, is seen as a threat. For a large number of their opponents on the left, any distinction between legal and illegal immigrants is similarly rejected. Talk of higher legal immigration is unacceptable on the American right; talk of lower illegal immigration is unacceptable on the left.

For Canadians, it should be a cautionary tale.

Source: On immigration, the Trudeau Liberals are going off-brand – and hitting the mark

Early commentary on the Liberal omnibus provisions regarding asylum seekers: Contrasting views Ibbitson and Urback

Starting with Ibbitson, who supports the planned change but not it being done though the omnibus budget bill:

“Our country is full,” Donald Trump told asylum seekers last week. The President is wrong, of course, but uncontrolled migration is a crisis in the United States and a problem in Canada, because it undermines confidence in the immigration system.

This is one reason the Trudeau government introduced legislation this week to stem the flow of people who cross at unauthorized points of entry from the United States.

Another might be that, even though the Liberals have done a good job over the past year of slowing the flow of unauthorized crossings, they fear the public might think they haven’t done enough.

In either case, it’s also important to remember that the core purpose of immigration is to stoke the economy and prevent population decline. The intent of deterring crossings at unauthorized places should be to bolster the overall system.

The total fertility rate in the United States has fallen to 1.8 children per woman, and will likely continue to fall. The Canadian rate is 1.6. Both countries are reproducing far below the average of 2.1 children per woman needed to prevent population decline.

This is good news. Teenage pregnancy rates have fallen by two-thirds in the United States since 1990, and 80 per cent in Canada, thanks to improved access to sex education and birth control. In the United States, white, African-American and Latino birth rates are converging, reflecting improved education and economic opportunity for minorities. More women are waiting to establish their careers before having a child, a reflection of increasing equality. Low fertility means social progress.

But fewer babies eventually means fewer young workers to pay the taxes needed to sustain health care and pension for older folks. It also means lower economic growth, because there are fewer young consumers buying that first car, first house and so on. Two dozen countries are losing population each year, and in many cases their economies are struggling.

The United States and Canada counter the effect through high levels of immigration, which is why their populations continue to grow, and to age more slowly.

But the United States faces a growing crisis of uncontrolled immigration, with more than 100,000 crossers from Mexico detained in March alone. In Canada, the number of people who crossed at unauthorized points of entry was just less than 20,000 for all of 2018, mostly from the United States into Quebec.

Mr. Trump wants to build a wall, which would be ineffective, and is threatening to close the southern border completely, which would be an economic disaster.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government is taking a different approach. The budget bill introduced Monday includes a new law that would prohibit people from making refugee claims who have already made a similar claim in the United States and certain other countries. And Canadian officials are working with their American counterparts to toughen the Safe Third Country Agreement so as to further deter crossers.

The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers has condemned the new legislation as “callous.” But Canada will continue to take in refugees who make legitimate claims through regular channels, such as the refugees from Syria.

The immigration system is not humanitarian; it is economic. In Canada, we bring in almost 1 per cent of our population each year so that our economy and population will continue to grow. Mr. Trump encourages nativist, anti-immigrant sentiment. If Americans listen to him, their country will eventually start losing people − with or without unauthorized migrants − surrendering a key geopolitical advantage, since the Chinese and Russian populations will both start to decline in a few years. (In Russia, it may already have begun.)

Some people argue for policies − enhanced parental leave, subsidized daycare, even cash payments − that will encourage couples to have more children, while limiting immigration. Such policies are very expensive and research shows they don’t work. Women in developed countries today for the most part don’t have children because the state, or God, or their kinfolk, or domineering husbands want them to. Parenting for most couples is an act of personal fulfilment. And they are quickly fulfilled.

The Trudeau government should not have placed these new rules in an omnibus budget bill. And those rules may not survive a judicial challenge. But the goal is sound, even if it was opportunistic. Governments have a duty to control their borders. Failure undermines confidence in the immigration system. And closing the door to immigrants is demographic suicide.

Source:     Liberals’ immigration plan is sound policy delivered poorly John Ibbitson April 11, 2019     
Urback, in contrast, focusses on the “crass political” calculations, and is largely silent on the merits or not of the change:

The Liberal caucus would have had a collective aneurysm just few months ago if a senior political opponent had talked about “asylum-shopping” when referring to refugees who cross illegally into Canada. The implication, they’d cry, is that those risking their lives to seek refuge in Canada are simply economic migrants — not families desperate to find a safe place to call home.

The reality, of course, is that while many migrants might genuinely see Canada as the only safe place for them in North America — and perhaps that’s true — many who have crossed into Canada at unofficial entry points have not met the criteria for refugee protection, for various reasons. Slightly more than half of finalized refugee claims from these applicants were rejected in the last quarter of 2018.

The situation is hardly straightforward; Canada has been forced to balance its humanitarian commitment to refugee resettlement with the practical limitations of a system unprepared for the recent wave of migrants.

The system has been under enormous strain, with asylum-seekers waiting up to two years for just a hearing. And the integrity of the process itself has been under intense pressure, based partly on the impression that migrants crossing into Canada illegally are using a “loophole” in the Safe Third Country agreement to qualify for a hearing, when they otherwise would have just been sent back to the U.S.

The situation is thus a fraught and messy one, which unquestionably makes it deserving of criticism and careful analysis. Yet that is something the Liberals have been fiercely intolerant of the past three and a half years.

Back in July, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen called the Ontario government’s concerns about so-called queue-jumping “un-Canadian.” During an end-of-year interview, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the Conservatives were trying to stoke fears over refugee claimants. In late January, the prime minister responded to a town hall question about Canada’s migration policies with a diatribe lamenting “the politics of division.”

And yet now, a few months later, Border Security Minister Bill Blair has defended the government’s sudden overhaul of asylum laws as a measure to prevent “asylum-shopping.” This language, apparently, is now tolerable.

Buried in this year’s omnibus budget implementation bill is a series of amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that essentially disqualify asylum-seekers who have made a claim for refugee protection in any other country. Once the bill receives royal assent, an asylum-seeker can be deported without a hearing, which would seem to violate the Charter as affirmed by Singh v. Canada, where the Supreme Court determined that Charter rights extend to everyone physically on Canadian soil.

Many Canadians will nevertheless welcome the Liberals’ unexpected about-face on asylum-seekers. Two-thirds of respondents to an Angus Reid poll published back in August thought the border situation had reached a crisis point. More than half said that Canada was too generous toward asylum-seekers who cross into Canada illegally. A more recent Ipsos poll found that 47 per cent of respondents believe most migrants aren’t actual refugees — they just want to come to Canada for its economic benefits. Perhaps Blair has that summary on his desk.

What’s noteworthy about the timing of the planned changes is that the number of asylum-seekers crossing into Canada at unofficial points of entry is actually on the decline. In 2018, 1,517 people were intercepted by the RCMP crossing into Canada during the month of January. A year later, that number dropped to 888 for the same month. In 2018, 1,565 people crossed illegally into Canada in February. A year later, for the same month, the total was 808. Numbers haven’t been that low since June 2017.

This is all to say — as if there was any doubt — that the Trudeau government’s decision to enact sweeping changes to Canada’s asylum provisions is just a crass political move; it will come into force months before an election, when illegal border crossing is actually on the decline, and right onside with public opinion in favour of toughening up asylum laws.

Tabling a stand-alone bill on changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act — as one would reasonably expect of policy changes of such enormous importance as Canada’s treatment of vulnerable people fleeing persecution — would take too long, and be subject to debate and revisions and multiple readings and so forth.

By using an omnibus bill (something the Liberals vowed they would never do), these changes can go into effect right away, eliminating a potentially defining wedge issue. Sure, it is potentially unconstitutional, but that can and will be sorted out later.

Three and a half years is not a long time to go from “Sunny Ways” and 25,000 Syrian refugees to deportations without hearings and unconstitutional amendments. This is type of realpolitik (on the backs of refugees, of all people) is the sort of soulless strategizing we’re supposed to expect of the other guys — the ones who talk about “queue-jumpers” and Canadian values and shopping around for places to seek asylum. But without the sun lighting the way, it’s hard to tell everyone apart.

Source: Changing Canada’s asylum laws is nothing but a crass political calculation by Trudeau: Robyn Urback

Refugee advocates ‘shocked and dismayed’ over asylum changes in budget bill

Well, of course they would be. That being said, it does represent another example of abuse of omnibus bills given the intended impact of this change and the ongoing shift in the government’s position which should be subject to thorough parliamentary and other discussion.

Will be interesting to see how the current and expected court challenges turn out:

Lawyers and advocates who work directly with refugees say they are dismayed by proposed changes to asylum laws included in the Liberals’ new budget bill, calling them a devastating attack on refugee rights in Canada.

The Trudeau government is proposing to prevent asylum seekers from making refugee claims in Canada if they have made similar claims in certain other countries, including the United States.

Border Security Minister Bill Blair said the measure aims to prevent “asylum-shopping.”

“I can tell you we’ve been working very hard over the past several months to significantly reduce the number of people who are crossing our borders irregularly,” Blair told reporters Tuesday. “There’s a right way to come to the country to seek asylum and/or to seek to immigrate to this country, and we’re trying to encourage people to use the appropriate channels and to disincentivize people from doing it improperly.”

The proposed changes blindsided refugee advocates and lawyers, who say they would strip human-rights protections from vulnerable refugee claimants.

“In terms of the effect on refugees, the effect is really immeasurable, because we’re now giving refugee claimants a degraded process to go through,” said Maureen Silcoff, the chair of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers’ litigation committee.

The new provision in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act — which was tucked into the 392-page omnibus budget bill tabled Monday evening — introduces a new ground of ineligibility for refugee protection. If an asylum-seeker has previously opened a claim for refugee protection in another country, his or her claim would be ineligible for consideration — as would claims by people who already have made unsuccessful claims here, been deemed inadmissible because of their criminal records, or been granted refugee protection elsewhere.

The provision is based on the belief that Canada’s refugee system is similar enough to that of the U.S. that anyone rejected there is likely to be rejected here as well.

Under Canada’s “Safe Third Country Agreement” with the U.S., would-be refugees who arrive at official border crossings from the United States and try to claim asylum will be turned back to the U.S. But the agreement doesn’t apply to people already on Canadian soil when they make their claims.

This has led to over 40,000 asylum-seekers crossing into Canada “irregularly” through unofficial paths along the Canada-U.S. border since early 2017, coinciding with U.S. government efforts to expel people who had been given temporary permission to stay in the United States.

A case for a Charter challenge?

Under the new provisions introduced Monday, asylum-seekers deemed ineligible to make claims in Canada will not necessarily be deported to their homelands. They will still undergo pre-removal risk assessments to determine if it is safe to send them back to their countries of origin.

But this takes away their legal right to have their refugee claims heard by an independent tribunal or a court — something that could be subject to a Charter challenge.

A 1985 Supreme Court ruling, known as the Singh decision after the group of Sikh refugee claimants involved in the case, ruled that asylum-seekers have the right to full oral hearings of their refugee claims. The decision is considered one of the most significant in Canadian refugee law and was instrumental in the formation of the Immigration and Refugee Board — the arm’s-length agency that hears refugee claims in Canada.

Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, said she suspects refugee lawyers are already starting to look closely the legalities of the government’s proposed changes.

“For sure there are serious Charter issues that may be raised,” she said.

‘Shock and dismay’

The pre-removal risk assessment, to which asylum-seekers in Canada will retain access, can include a hearing, but Dench said it’s not the same and, in practice, is usually more like an interview. The hearing is not automatic.

Dench said she and her members, which include over 100 Canadian organizations that work directly with refugees and immigrants, were “in a state of shock and dismay and great disappointment” over the proposed changes.

“This is really a devastating attack on refugee rights,” she said. “We’ve been urging the government to drop the existing ineligibility provisions, which already leave some people without the protection that they need from Canada. This is going a huge step further in creating another whole category of people who will be denied access to the refugee determination system on an arbitrary basis.”

That the changes were included as part of an omnibus budget implementation bill is even more upsetting to the refugee advocates.

‘Undemocratic’

Substantial changes to immigration laws like the ones being proposed ought to be given a more thorough treatment in Parliament rather than being rushed in a budget bill, Silcoff said.

“CARL (the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers) believes that human rights have no place in a budget bill. It’s undemocratic.”

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan echoed these concerns, calling the proposed changes “unconscionable” and the fact they were introduced in a budget bill “shocking.”

“These are standalone bills and they should be dealt with as such, and to try and bury in the budget bill is absolutely contrary to what (Prime Minister Justin) Trudeau himself promised in the 2015 election.”

The Conservative party has frequently demanded that the Liberal government keep people from getting into the country to make asylum claims. Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel said the changes indicate that Trudeau has “effectively admitted that he has failed to manage our border.”

Asylum seekers should make claims through ‘appropriate’ channels: Canadian envoy to U.S.

One further detail that I hadn’t noticed before – Canada has been pressing this for more than one year (so not just short-term pre-election positioning):

Canada’s ambassador to the United States says “legitimate refugee claimants” should make their claims through an “appropriate” process rather than crossing from the U.S. between official points of entry.

David MacNaughton said the U.S. moving to begin the process to renegotiate the Safe Third Country Agreement is an encouraging sign. Ottawa wants the pact changed to close a loophole in order to allow Canada to quickly turn away most asylum seekers coming from the United States who enter from unauthorized points.

Asked to square this request with the federal government’s position that refugees are welcome in Canada, Mr. MacNaughton said asylum seekers should use an “established” process.

“We’re open to immigration. We’re also open to legitimate refugee claimants who go through the process that is established,” Mr. MacNaughton said Tuesday in the U.S. Capitol after a lunch meeting with legislators on trade. “What we’re trying to do is make sure that those who are wanting to claim refugee status do so in the way in which it’s appropriate.”

More than 40,000 asylum seekers have entered Canada through unofficial points of entry since U.S. President Donald Trump launched his crackdown on illegal immigration two years ago. The flood of claimants is bogging down the refugee protection system in Canada.

Under the current pact, most refugee claimants who come to Canada from the United States through official points of entry – such as border stations – are immediately sent back to the United States, as it is considered a safe country for refugees under the treaty. But the agreement does not apply between such points of entry, so those who cross between border stations have the right to make a refugee claim.

Mr. MacNaughton said he is encouraged that the United States is starting to move on renegotiation. But he said he did not know whether the United States would agree to the rewrite Canada wants.

“We have had no firm indication as to what they’re prepared to do or not do,” he said. “It’s a positive thing that it’s gone to State [Department] to give a negotiating mandate because that hasn’t been the case for the last however long we’ve been asking for this to happen.”

Canada has been pressing the United States to renegotiate for more than a year. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is now working with State Department officials on a formal request to reopen the deal, The Globe and Mail reported on Monday. An assistant secretary would have to authorize the request for talks to start.

Border Security Minister Bill Blair has proposed a change to the agreement that would see Canadian border officials take such asylum seekers to an official crossing, where they would be denied immediate entry. But that plan would have to clear legal hurdles articulated by the Supreme Court that guarantee a hearing to any refugee claimant setting foot in Canada.

Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, said a renegotiation could backfire on Canada. She said Canada risks drawing Mr. Trump’s attention to the 2004 border agreement, which could lead the United States to propose changes to the agreement that Ottawa doesn’t want.

“This agreement was negotiated to favour Canadian interests and at Canadian request,” Ms. Dench said. “And so in asking to renegotiate the agreement, the Canadian government must be aware that the U.S. government may … actually want to negotiate it so that fewer refugees are sent back to the U.S. or that the U.S. would think maybe we should actually withdraw ourselves from this agreement.”

The CCR, along with Amnesty International and the Canadian Council of Churches, launched a Federal Court challenge to the agreement in 2017, arguing against Canada’s position that the United States is a safe country for refugees under the Trump administration. A decision has not yet been issued by the court.

The NDP has called on the Liberals to suspend the pact so asylum seekers in the United States can claim refugee status at official Canadian land border posts.

Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel urged the Liberal government to act immediately to stop the flow of asylum seekers between official points of entry along the border, saying she doesn’t buy its assertion that Canada can’t make the appropriate changes without agreement from the United States. She accused the Liberals of putting forward ideas without a plan to practically implement them.

“We’re six months out to an election and after trying to make electoral hay out of calling Canadians who raise questions about this fear mongerers and un-Canadian and thinly veiled accusations of racism, I think that this is now about electoral calculus rather than action,” Ms. Rempel said.

Canada, U.S. move to redraft border treaty to cut flow of asylum seekers

More movement than I would have thought possible with a possible clever fix of taking seekers to a regular border crossing where they could be deported under the STCA.

Should the USA agree (far from certain), will be interesting to see how it would work in practice (a regular shuttle from Roxham Road until the flow decreases?).

And hanging over all of this is the court challenge to the STCA:

Canada and the United States are a step closer to redrawing the Safe Third Country Agreement covering asylum seekers, as Ottawa looks to stem the flow of refugee claimants crossing between authorized points of entry.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has sent a formal request to the State Department – which handles international treaties – to renegotiate the STCA with Canada, a source in the U.S. administration said. The source was granted anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Ottawa wants the pact changed to close a loophole, which would allow Canada to immediately deport most asylum seekers coming from the United States.

Canadian officials would take such asylum seekers to an official crossing, where they would be denied immediate entry. But that plan would have to clear legal hurdles articulated by the Supreme Court that guarantee a hearing to any refugee claimant setting foot in Canada.

More than 40,000 asylum seekers have entered Canada at unauthorized points of entry since U.S. President Donald Trump launched his crackdown on illegal immigration two years ago. The flood of claimants is bogging down the refugee protection system in Canada.

Under the current pact, most refugee claimants who come to Canada from the United States at official points of entry – such as border stations – are immediately sent back to the United States. But the pact does not apply between such points of entry, so those who cross between border stations have the right to make a refugee claim. Canada wants this changed so most people coming from the United States – at any point along the border – can be immediately deported. The idea behind the treaty is that refugees do not face a risk of persecution in the United States, so it is safe for them to apply for asylum there – no need to continue on to Canada.

The U.S. government source said DHS officials are working with their counterparts at the State Department on the request to start negotiations – formally called a C-175. Under that process, a high-ranking State Department official, usually an assistant secretary, must approve the request. An approval would allow talks to begin, but would not determine the outcome.

The State Department would not comment on the development. “We do not discuss internal and inter-agency deliberations, nor do we discuss specific documents or communications that are involved in such deliberations,” spokesman Noel Clay wrote in an e-mail.

Border Security Minister Bill Blair wrote to DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen last September to ask her to start talks on changing the border agreement. Mr. Blair’s office said the letter mentioned his mandate from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to manage the surge in asylum seekers at the border.

In a statement this week, Mr. Blair’s spokesman said Canada and the United States have not yet entered into formal negotiations on the STCA.

“However, since his appointment, Minister Blair has met with numerous stakeholders including U.S. members of Congress, Customs and Border Protection and Department of Homeland Security officials to discuss modernizing the STCA as soon as possible,” Ryan Cotter said.

Mr. Blair visited Washington this month to press his case. He met with three Republican legislators active on border-control matters – senators John Cornyn and Ron Johnson, and Representative Mike Rogers – as well as Matthew Reynolds, the U.S. representative for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and Kirsten Hillman, Canada’s deputy ambassador to the United States.

Mr. Rogers, the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, would not discuss Canada’s requested change to the treaty.

“I don’t have a comment right now,” he said outside his Capitol Hill office Wednesday.

One Canadian official, who was granted anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly, said between 60 and 70 per cent of the asylum seekers crossing the border between points of entry appear to have gone to the United States specifically for that purpose: They arrive in the United States on a visitor’s visa, with no intention of seeking asylum there, then immediately head to the border.

Speaking to The Globe and Mail this month, Mr. Blair said Canada is proposing a change to the STCA that would allow Canadian officials to escort asylum seekers who enter at unauthorized entry points to a designated crossing area. There, the border agreement could be applied, allowing Canadian officials to refuse entry to the asylum seekers. The change would apply to the entire border.

Mr. Blair explained how it would work in Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que., the unauthorized point of entry at the end of Roxham Road in New York State, where most irregular asylum seekers have entered Canada.

“If, for example, there was an agreement of the United States to accept back those people that are crossing at the end of Roxham Road, then Canadian officials who are already there dealing with those people as they come across could theoretically take them back to a regular point of entry … and give effect to those regulations at that place,” Mr. Blair said on March 15.

The legal community is divided over whether the proposal would violate the Supreme Court’s landmark 1985 Singh decision, which found that all refugee claimants on Canadian soil are entitled to an oral hearing.

Errol Mendes, a constitutional law professor at the University of Ottawa, says the Singh decision would apply to asylum claimants who cross into Canada between official points of entry and express fear of persecution.

“The only way you can get around it is if they don’t claim that they’re seeking asylum, but once they do, the Singh case covers it,” Prof. Mendes said. “This is really tricky.”

However, refugee lawyer Lorne Waldman has a different interpretation of how the Singh decision would apply to Mr. Blair’s proposal.

“There doesn’t have to be a hearing … [because it’s assumed] the U.S. is going to give them a fair hearing,” Mr. Waldman said.

He added that while it may be legal to send refugee claimants back to the United States at the moment, a continuing Federal Court challenge may change that. In 2017, the Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnesty International and the Canadian Council of Churches launched a legal challenge to change the designation of the United States as a safe country for refugees. The groups argue that the rights of refugees have been stripped under the Trump administration. The Federal Court will take at least another year to issue a decision, Mr. Waldman said.

Craig Damian Smith, an immigration expert at the University of Toronto, said the political calculus for Mr. Trudeau is clear: He wants to shore up Liberal support in Quebec and in the 905 suburbs around Toronto, where anti-refugee sentiment boiled over into protests against asylum seekers arriving from the United States last summer. While tightening the STCA will cause some advocates for refugees to sour on the Prime Minister, there are not enough of them to matter electorally.

Still, the government’s proposed changes to the deal would clash with Canada’s image as a country that welcomes asylum seekers.

“The optics of that – pushing people back across the border, when right now we see friendly RCMP greeting people – what are they going to look like when they start chasing people down? That’s not good,” said Mr. Smith, associate director of the Global Migration Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.

It’s not clear exactly when Canadian officials first reached out to their U.S. counterparts to discuss reopening talks on the STCA. Mike MacDonald, an associate assistant deputy minister at the Immigration Department, told a parliamentary committee in May, 2018, that Canada had been in talks with the United States for “several months.”

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale met with Ms. Nielsen last year to talk about the matter. Mr. Blair was the first minister to write to Ms. Nielsen last September, shortly after he was appointed the government’s first Minister of Border Security and took over the irregular asylum seekers file from Mr. Hussen.

Source: Canada, U.S. move to redraft border treaty to cut flow of asylum seekers