Nadeau: Ouvrir le chemin Roxham

Of note, different from most Quebec commentary. And telling critique of those who adopt positions to increase reader and view ship (click bait):

Qu’est-ce qui rend nos idées acceptables ? Il est toujours plus facile d’adhérer à ce qui nous est familier. Aussi nos idées sont-elles souvent enracinées dans la pauvreté de simples réflexes. Nous reproduisons, dans le présent, des idées conventionnelles héritées du passé, sans songer à les actualiser. Nous portons, ce faisant, les oeillères de nos pères et de nos mères.

Rien d’étonnant à ce que les idées conventionnelles aient la cote. Dans les grands médias, cela se voit, cela s’entend. À la télévision en particulier, devant des animateurs qui se posent, pour la forme, en arbitre du temps de parole, des intervenants répètent sensiblement tous la même chose. Plongé dans ces lieux formatés et huilés pour être glissés entre deux publicités, l’auditeur peut-il en tirer quelque chose de neuf ?

Il y a bien des raisons pour expliquer cette uniformité chez ceux qui font métier de leur image en nous montrant avant tout leurs beaux habits et leurs habitudes. À commencer par le fait qu’il est toujours plus facile de faire passer une idée qui a mille fois été rabâchée que de se mettre à disserter de nouvelles dans un espace réduit. Quand il est répété en boucle, même sur le ton de l’indignation, le banal n’a guère besoin d’être expliqué. Le prédigéré — le préjugé, si vous voulez — est ainsi plus facilement assimilé que n’importe laquelle autre nourriture intellectuelle télévisée.

En matière d’idées, voilà pourquoi le conservatisme a toujours, du moins en apparence, une longueur d’avance. Pourtant, la postérité est cruelle avec de telles idées, à mesure que le présent fait irrésistiblement en sorte d’en miner les fondements. Jusqu’au jour où tout le monde admet que de tels jugements sont dépassés.

Il est encore difficile de parler d’immigration aujourd’hui sans que la discussion soit infléchie par des idées anciennes.

Autrefois, à l’ère du protectionnisme et d’un nationalisme frileux, le refus de l’immigration pouvait se comprendre en partie. Mais au jour où presque tous nos biens de consommation sont fabriqués à l’étranger, au nom du libre marché, en vertu de quoi faudrait-il repousser l’entrée chez nous de cette part d’humanité vers laquelle nous avons délocalisé nos industries autant que nos ennuis ?

L’hémisphère Nord accapare de plus en plus les richesses de la planète, à une vitesse jamais vue. Mais nous ne voulons pas voir apparaître chez nous les conséquences de problèmes que nous avons contribué à ériger ailleurs. Peut-on sincèrement en vouloir à une partie de l’humanité de vouloir prendre ses jambes à son cou pour tenter de profiter d’une assiette au beurre que nous avons tirée de notre côté ?

Il est répété que les réfugiés doivent être rentables pour être acceptés. Qui plus est, ils devraient parler français. Au jour où mon ancêtre Nadeau est arrivé en Nouvelle-France, il parlait seulement, comme bien d’autres immigrants, un patois occitan. Du monde, il ne connaissait qu’une vieille voie romaine capable de le conduire jusque sur un rafiot voguant sur l’océan. Au Québec, moins de 3 % de la population — les Autochtones répartis en onze nations — ne sont pas le fruit de l’immigration.

Le français est important. Mais une langue, cela s’apprend. Encore faudrait-il commencer par se donner les moyens de la transmettre avec la culture qu’elle porte. Notre système scolaire apparaît aussi malade que notre système hospitalier. François Legault en est rendu à avaliser l’idée que des enseignants à peine formés peuvent tout de même enseigner. Les conséquences d’un manque de planification et de vision, nous en payons le gros prix devant l’avenir.

Le chemin Roxham, est-ce par là que nos idées prennent désormais la fuite quand il est question de repenser notre société ? Depuis des mois, tous les maux des Québécois — l’éducation, la santé, l’environnement, la pauvreté, l’inflation — semblent s’exorciser dès lors qu’est invoqué le chemin Roxham, comme si, d’ailleurs, il était le seul du genre. L’attention est sans cesse détournée de ce côté. Au point que le ministre Jean Boulet, collectionneur de grossièretés, a affirmé l’an passé que la fermeture de ce chemin éviterait le débordement d’un système de santé pourtant déjà surchargé depuis des années ! Le même avait laissé entendre qu’il existait un lien entre le chemin Roxham et la propagation du variant Omicron… Mieux valait compter sur des robots, disait-il aussi, que sur des immigrants pour résorber la pénurie de main-d’oeuvre !

Bien des commentateurs obsédés par l’immigration ont des allures d’agitateurs à force de chercher à tout prix à créer les conditions favorables à la croissance de leur nombre d’auditeurs et d’électeurs plutôt qu’à éclairer le débat public. Selon de vieux clichés, l’immigrant serait une menace et un danger, lorsqu’il n’est pas réduit à une simple marchandise. Au nom d’une vision étriquée de l’identité nationale, faut-il pourchasser et traquer ces gens comme des vaches, pour les enfermer, les terroriser, les maltraiter et les traire, au seul prétexte qu’ils viennent d’ailleurs ?

Le nombre de personnes qui migrent désormais au pays de façon temporaire, que ce soit pour labourer nos terres, assurer les récoltes ou soigner nos aînés, a été multiplié par trois. Pareilles portes tournantes, par lesquelles des personnes sont exploitées puis expulsées, est-ce là un meilleur gage d’humanité ?

Une immigration planifiée à gros prix par la firme McKinsey, au nom des puissances de la finance, puis avalisée par un béni-oui-oui d’une morale sans esprit à la Justin Trudeau, cela n’a évidemment pas de quoi rassurer qui que ce soit. Mais on ne peut pas jeter pour autant des gens comme des kleenex, sachant ce qu’est la faim, le froid, la misère, l’insécurité, la peur. Les problèmes majeurs qui pèsent sur notre monde ne tiennent pas à l’immigration, mais à ses causes. C’est à elles qu’il faut s’attaquer.

Il n’existe pas de meilleur des mondes. Mais un monde meilleur est possible. Encore faudrait-il, pour commencer à en envisager les termes, accepter de retirer nos oeillères des temps passés

Source: Ouvrir le chemin Roxham

Le Bloc québécois dénonce un «manque d’humanisme» chez Immigration Canada

More criticism from a less frequent source:

« Manque d’empathie et d’humanisme », « structure dysfonctionnelle » : le porte-parole en matière d’Immigration, Réfugiés et Citoyenneté du Bloc québécois, Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe, ne mâche pas ses mots en parlant d’Immigration Canada, en entrevue avec Le Devoir.

Le Bloc québécois tient samedi un point de presse à l’aéroport Pierre-Elliot Trudeau afin de souligner l’arrivée au pays de Rose Eva, une Camerounaise expulsée du territoire en 2020. La jeune femme avait obtenu un permis d’étude pour compléter une technique en informatique à l’Institut Teccart.

Elle avait obtenu son diplôme précocement grâce à ses bons résultats, et avait ensuite continué à travailler dans une boutique de vêtements, où elle avait été embauchée pendant ses études.

Le visa que détenait Mme Eva lui interdisait cependant de travailler une fois son diplôme obtenu, ce qu’elle ignorait. Le ministère de l’Immigration, des Réfugiés et de la Citoyenneté du Canada l’avait donc renvoyée au Cameroun, en janvier 2020.

« Aujourd’hui, elle revient avec une résidence permanente et on en est bien heureux », se réjouit Rhéal Éloi Fortin, député bloquiste de Rivière-du-Nord, la circonscription dans laquelle résidait la jeune femme. « Mais c’est une situation que je déplore pour l’ensemble de la société québécoise et canadienne : on avait une immigrante qualifiée et intégrée, et on l’a retournée chez elle. »

Dans un communiqué, le Bloc indique que le bureau de circonscription de M. Fortin a aidé Mme Eva dans ses démarches administratives « depuis son exclusion en janvier 2020 jusqu’à son retour. »

Mme Eva devait initialement arriver à Montréal vers 11 heures du matin, mais elle aurait été « retenue à Toronto » et aurait manqué son vol, indique le Bloc québécois. Elle est finalement arrivée vers 15 heures à Dorval.

Un ministère « dysfonctionnel »

Pour le député de Lac-Saint-Jean, Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe, cette situation est symptomatique d’un « manque d’empathie et d’humanisme » chez Immigration Canada. « S’il y a bien un ministère qui se doit d’être humain et empathique, c’est celui-là, insiste-t-il. Les dossiers qu’on gère, c’est pas des statistiques, c’est des vraies personnes. »

Il invoque le cas de Rose Eva pour illustrer son propos. « Ils l’ont détenue, ont pris son téléphone, l’ont mise dans une pièce fermée. C’est bouleversant, […] c’est extrêmement humiliant. » Pour lui, le constat est clair : « Ce ministère est dysfonctionnel. »

Cet automne, le gouvernement a allégé certaines restrictions inhérentes au visa d’études. Certains étudiants peuvent désormais travailler plus de 20 heures par semaine, ce qui était auparavant interdit. Le Bloc québécois demande maintenant au gouvernement de lever le règlement qui a coûté son visa à Rose Eva, c’est-à-dire l’interdiction de travailler une fois le diplôme complété.

Le chemin Roxham, un sujet chaud

Questionné sur un sujet chaud de l’heure, le chemin Roxham, M. Brunelle-Duceppe n’a pas voulu se positionner en faveur ou non de sa fermeture. « Nous, on demande au gouvernement depuis 2019 de suspendre l’entente sur les tiers pays sûrs », a-t-il martelé.

Cette entente stipule qu’un migrant qui met d’abord le pied en territoire américain doit obligatoirement faire sa demande d’asile en sol américain, et vice-versa s’il est d’abord arrivé au Canada. Voilà pourquoi plusieurs migrants préfèrent arriver au Canada en empruntant le chemin Roxham, un passage non officiel où ils ne se feront pas contrôler par les agents frontaliers.

« Si on suspend cette entente, les migrants pourraient faire leur demande aux postes frontaliers de l’ensemble de la frontière canadienne, ce qui enlèverait la pression sur le Québec », croit M. Brunelle-Duceppe.

Il souligne que le gouvernement canadien aurait le pouvoir de suspendre l’entente sur les tiers pays sûrs pour une durée minimale de trois mois et ce, sans l’accord du gouvernement américain. « Un moment donné, il va falloir mettre ses culottes, assène-t-il. Mais le gouvernement canadien a peut-être peur de froisser les Américains. »

Rappelons que le 4 janvier dernier, le migrant haïtien Fritznel Richard avait été retrouvé mort à proximité du chemin Roxham, alors qu’il tentait de rejoindre les États-Unis.

Source: Le Bloc québécois dénonce un «manque d’humanisme» chez Immigration Canada

Lisée: Dire «basta!» à Roxham

More on Roxham. Current federal approach is looking rather lame:

Mettons les choses au clair. Si vous ou moi étions Haïtiens, Cubains, Guatémaltèques, entre plusieurs autres, nous remuerions ciel et terre, vendrions tous nos biens, nous endetterions jusqu’aux yeux pour arriver en territoire états-unien, prendre la route qui mène au chemin Roxham et tenter notre chance d’avoir, pour nous et nos enfants, une vie immensément meilleure au Canada.

Les informations circulent vite dans les milieux de l’immigration des pays du Sud. Il y a six ans ce mois-ci, Justin Trudeau a lancé son gazouillis annonçant « À ceux qui fuient la persécution, la terreur et la guerre, sachez que le Canada vous accueillera ». La version anglaise a récolté pas moins de 600 000 mentions « J’aime ».

Dans un premier temps, paniqué par l’afflux de demandes, Ottawa a annoncé que plus de 90 % de ces demandeurs finiraient par être renvoyés, car ne satisfaisant pas aux critères de l’asile. Plus récemment, un nouveau bilan faisait état de 50 % de refus. On sait cependant que des dizaines de milliers de personnes disparaissent dans la nature et préfèrent vivre sans papiers au Québec et au Canada plutôt que d’être reconduites dans leur pays d’origine. Vous et moi ferions pareil. D’autant qu’Ottawa prévoit régulariser sous peu la situation d’un demi-million d’entre elles.

Voyez, vos (nos) chances de succès sont passées de 10 % à 50 % à potentiellement 100 %. Venir au chemin Roxham, c’est le bon choix.

La société d’accueil doit poser ses conditions au point d’entrée. Elles doivent être précises, compréhensibles, prévisibles. Le contrat social entre nous et les futurs membres de notre société s’incarne là, dans la décision du migrant d’accepter ces conditions. Une fois ce pas franchi, notre attitude doit être d’une totale ouverture.

C’est pourquoi, ministre, j’ai appuyé les milliers de réfugiés du tremblement de terre haïtien qu’Ottawa menaçait d’expulser ; chef du PQ, j’ai dénoncé pendant la campagne de 2018 l’absurde projet de la Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ) de faire reconduire à la frontière les immigrants qui, trois ans après leur arrivée, échoueraient à des tests de valeurs ou de français ; commentateur, j’ai réclamé que tous les réfugiés et demandeurs d’asile ayant soutenu la santé et l’économie québécoises pendant la pandémie, sans exception, se voient accorder un certificat de sélection du Québec, ce que la CAQ a honteusement refusé de faire.

J’ai aussi insisté pour qu’une connaissance du français au point d’entrée soit indispensable pour les immigrants en règle, mais que le niveau de français soit modulé en fonction de l’emploi visé. (Des exemples navrants de rigidité sont bien exposés dans le documentaire Essentiels, sur Télé-Québec.)

Le refus canadien d’agir

Que faire avec Roxham ? On sait exactement quoi, et depuis le début. Ottawa n’avait qu’à utiliser la clause qui suspend notre accord avec les États-Unis pour faire en sorte que tous les demandeurs d’asile se présentent à un poste-frontière régulier. S’il ne souhaitait pas froisser les Américains, il aurait suffi de modifier la loi fédérale sur l’immigration pour appliquer à Roxham les termes de l’entente. Par conséquent, immédiatement, les agents auraient pu y refuser sur-le-champ les demandes d’asile qu’ils jugeaient non fondées, donc la moitié.

On nous annonce que la renégociation de l’entente avec les États-Unis ne sera pas finalisée lors de la venue de Joe Biden en mars et qu’il faudra attendre que le Congrès américain adopte un changement législatif, ce qui est ces jours-ci aussi facile que d’apprendre la nage synchronisée à un essaim de mouches noires.

La nouvelle ministre de l’Immigration du Québec, Christine Fréchette, a dit « basta ! » (un vocable emprunté à l’italien qui veut dire « ça suffit ! »). Oui, mais comment cette injonction se traduira-t-elle dans les faits, lorsque le flot, passé de 16 000 en 2017 à 39 000 l’an dernier, atteindra 50 000 cette année, 60 000 l’an prochain ?

Les options

Je ne connais que deux options aptes à forcer la main d’Ottawa. Certains proposent d’envoyer la Sûreté du Québec. Elle ne pourrait pas bloquer la frontière, qui relève du fédéral, mais la route, de compétence québécoise, derrière les installations fédérales d’accueil. Ce qui signifierait que les agents fédéraux continueraient de recevoir les migrants, mais ne pourraient les faire sortir de leur enclave, forçant Ottawa à renvoyer les candidats vers Lacolle. Je suis opposé à cette hypothèse, angoissante pour les migrants et politiquement intenable, car — visualisez une barricade de policiers québécois bloquant l’accès à des fonctionnaires fédéraux — d’un coût réputationnel énorme.

L’autre solution est de réclamer d’Ottawa qu’il laisse au Québec sa juste part de ces réfugiés, soit 20 %, notre poids démocratique, et qu’il se charge de répartir les autres dans le reste du pays. Sinon, le Québec le fera pour lui. En fait, Ottawa a commencé à opérer ce déplacement l’an dernier, pour environ 10 % des demandeurs. Mais il le fait de façon aléatoire et franchement indélicate, débarquant chez des migrants sans prévenir pour les conduire en Ontario. Je propose que cette démarche soit transparente et prévisible.

Le Québec prendrait en charge dès leur arrivée les francophones et les personnes qui ont de la famille immédiate au Québec, donc ceux pour qui le succès d’intégration est le plus élevé, mais reconduirait quotidiennement les autres à Ottawa ou à un lieu qui nous serait indiqué. Le second contingent en importance est formé de Nigérians, des anglophones, qui trouveront dans le ROC de meilleures conditions d’intégration. S’il existe d’autres options réalistes, je suis tout ouïe.

Une exigence de lucidité

Cette solution ne tarirait pas le flot. Seules les mesures légales fédérales précitées permettraient de le réduire de moitié. Le Québec aurait à vue de nez recueilli l’an dernier 10 000 de ces demandeurs irréguliers, donc quatre fois moins. Ce nombre pourrait doubler en quelques années, mais, au moins, ce serait gérable.

Finalement, il y a la question de savoir si, en cas de suspension de l’entente canado-américaine par Ottawa, les candidats sachant que la moitié d’entre eux seront interdits d’entrée ne franchiront pas la frontière ailleurs. Un certain nombre, oui. Le mal est fait, les passeurs sont installés, ils ont intérêt à ce que ça dure. Cependant, le nombre serait considérablement réduit, car le risque serait beaucoup plus grand.

Je sais que des lecteurs estimeront qu’il ne faut pas évoquer ces hypothèses. Ils ont raison d’estimer que chacun de ces migrants a une histoire, un espoir, une valeur humaine irréductible. Mais puisque les frontières existent, il faut les gérer. Ce qui signifie dire parfois oui, parfois non. Et ces réponses ont, sur chaque migrant, des conséquences pour toute une vie.

La lucidité exige que ces questions soient posées, puisque Justin Trudeau refuse d’agir depuis six ans. J’estime que le Québec doit dire « basta ! » à l’intenable statu quo canadien à Roxham et prendre les moyens pour opérer un vrai changement. J’estime tout aussi essentiel qu’une fois parmi nous, chacune des personnes que nous accueillons obtienne immédiatement ce premier passeport pour la dignité qu’est le droit de travailler — et pour les travailleurs agricoles, qu’ils puissent changer d’employeur à leur gré. Qu’on leur offre ensuite une passerelle rapide vers un statut de résident permanent sans leur faire subir la tartufferie d’examiner leur demande d’asile, d’en refuser la moitié, de les pousser à la clandestinité, puis de les régulariser dans une amnistie.

Bref, soyons fermes et rigoureux au point d’entrée, et mettons tout en oeuvre, ensuite, pour que ceux qui nous choisissent et qu’on a choisis obtiennent le droit, et développent l’envie, de devenir pleinement Québécois.

Source: Dire «basta!» à Roxham

Hotel rooms for asylum seekers cost Ottawa $94-million since last election

Of note:

The federal government has spent almost $94-million since the last election booking entire hotels for months to accommodate an influx of asylum seekers entering Canada, according to an access-to-information request.

Since September, 2021, the Immigration Department has paid $93,886,222 for “long leases” with hotels, mostly in Quebec, setting them aside for asylum seekers, including those entering the country through the irregular border crossing at Quebec’s Roxham Road.

The department booked 30 hotels between April and December last year – 10 in Montreal alone, according to a redacted response to the access-to-information request.

The Immigration Department said it wants to help take pressure off the provinces, even though the housing of asylum seekers is a provincial responsibility.

By block booking hotel rooms, it can ensure there are enough places to house the “the rising volume of asylum claimants crossing between the ports of entry, who have no housing options available to them,” said Nancy Caron, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

She added that most come through the Roxham Road and Lacolle border crossings in Quebec from the United States.

The discovery of the body of Haitian migrant Fritznel Richard near Roxham Road this month reignited a debate in Quebec about the irregular border crossing, about an hour’s drive from Montreal.

A briefing document for the Immigration Department’s deputy minister on irregular migration from July last year said at that time the government had 1,721 rooms leased in 24 hotels in 12 locations across Canada.

It said a big rise in airport arrivals, mainly in Montreal, in June last year meant that the department had to transfer asylum claimants from Quebec to hotels in Ottawa and Niagara Falls. They hired 300 hotel rooms in Niagara Falls in July, to cope with an “accommodation crisis in Quebec.”

“While this option is not cost effective, it was the only immediate solution in this circumstance,” the briefing document said.

Quebec Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus said he and other MPs were concerned not just about the cost of block booking entire hotels, but the fact that many rooms are unoccupied a lot of the time. He said one such hotel, Hotel St-Bernard in Lacolle, seven minutes from the Roxham Road border crossing, is often empty. The hotel declined to comment.

“What we want is to stop the illegal border crossing. If they don’t do anything to stop it, we will need more hotel rooms and the problems will get worse,” he said, adding that it was also having an impact on tourism.

The organizer of an annual kids’ hockey tournament in Montreal – which is holding its 30th anniversary event in May and June – told The Globe that families cannot find rooms in hotels the tournament has booked for decades because so many have been totally reserved.

Dave Harroch, who runs the Montreal Madness hockey tournament, said families may now have to stay far from where the games will be held, on the West Island of Montreal.

“One of the hotels told me they are only 20 per cent occupied,” he said.

Between last April and December, the Immigration Department booked one Montreal hotel with 175 rooms for $7.5-million and another 160-room hotel in the city for $9.7-million.

In Dorval, near Montreal’s international airport, it booked a 112-room hotel for $5.2-million in the same period. And between September and December, a 117-room hotel was leased for $1.3-million.

The Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton, near the airport, is among those reserved for asylum seekers. The hotel declined to comment.

The Comfort Inn Aeroport in Dorval is another. Choice Hotels Canada, which has the Comfort Inn brand within its stable, said it was up to its franchisees to decide whether to lease their hotels to the government.

The access-to-information request shows the Immigration Department had a long-term lease on a 39-room hotel between April and December last year in Lacolle, just minutes from the Roxham Road border crossing, at a cost of $1.7-million. It refused to name the hotel.

The information request shows that in Niagara Falls, the government booked a 150-room hotel between October and December last year and an 85-room hotel between April and December, each at a cost of about $1.6-million.

From July to December last year the Immigration Department spent just over $2-million on a 50-room Ottawa hotel. Between April to October it spent just over $1-million on a 30-room hotel in the capital.

The government has also spent millions reserving entire hotels for asylum seekers who move on to other parts of Canada, including in Winnipeg, Lethbridge, Alta. and Surrey, B.C.

Source: Hotel rooms for asylum seekers cost Ottawa $94-million since last election

Safe Third Country Agreement is ‘working’ despite surge in irregular crossings: minister

Of note (not sure its perceived as working by the public):

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino says the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) is “working,” despite the massive increase in migrants using unofficial border crossings last year compared to previous years.

Mendicino told CTV’s Question Period host Vassy Kapelos, in an interview airing Sunday, Canadian officials and their American counterparts continue to work together to modernize the agreement. Still, he insists the system is functioning.

“To be clear, that agreement remains in place and it is working,” he said. “The RCMP are doing the job of intercepting those who are coming into the country, which obviously underscores the integrity of our borders and the investments, which are backstopped by the federal government.”

The STCA was first signed 20 years ago, and there have been talks of modernizing it since 2018, with some changes made in 2019. Under the STCA, people seeking refugee status in either Canada or the U.S. must make their claim in the first country they enter.

The loophole that the agreement applies only to official land border crossings means asylum seekers who manage to enter a country via an unofficial crossing — such as Roxham Road along the Quebec-New York border — are not returned.

According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, the number of RCMP interceptions and asylum claims at unofficial border crossings between Canada and the U.S. hit a six-year high in 2022. There was a drastic drop in the numbers as of spring 2020 and throughout 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the border.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that we’re going to be able to land it,” he said. “In the meantime, we’ll continue to make historic investments and work with provincial and territorial partners, so that asylum seekers who have a basis on which to make those claims in Canada are able to do so, but do so in a safe and orderly way.”

“It’s important that we recognize that we have an immigration system that works, and that fosters safe and orderly flow both when it comes to asylum seekers, as well as economic immigrants,” he also said.

Conservative Leader Poilievre Poilievre said this week that the Liberal government should renegotiate the agreement “in order to close Roxham Road,” adding he understands why people try to use it, because the Canadian immigration system is “now so slow and so broken.” He blamed the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada application backlog, and said the prime minister should “renegotiate the deal with the Americans, and speed up the processing of immigration generally.”

Source: Safe Third Country Agreement is ‘working’ despite surge in irregular crossings: minister

Haitian migrant’s death reignites debate over Quebec’s Roxham Road border crossing

The death of a Haitian migrant near Quebec’s Roxham Road has reignited a debate in the province about how to respond to an increase in asylum seekers entering the country through the irregular border crossing.

The body of Fritznel Richard, 44, was found on Jan. 5 in a wooded area near the popular unofficial entry point, about an hour’s drive south of Montreal. Provincial police said he was trying to reach family in the United States, and that he likely died of hypothermia after becoming lost.

A migrant’s advocacy group that is helping the family said Mr. Richard was originally from Haiti, had entered Canada through Roxham Road at an unknown time, and had been struggling to obtain a work permit. “Unfortunately, he was in a precarious situation and was not able to make ends meet,” said Hady Anne, a spokesperson for Solidarity Across Borders.

Hélène Gravel, who lives next to the U.S. border on Roxham Road, said that in the past few months, she and her neighbours have seen more people crossing through the forest near her house to get to the U.S., including families.

“Even if there aren’t many of them, we’re not going to wait for them to die in the forest to do something,” she said.

Mr. Richard’s death has placed a renewed spotlight on Roxham Road’s unofficial border crossing, at which tens of thousands of migrants have entered Canada in recent years, largely because of the Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the U.S. The long-standing pact means that border agents from each country must turn away asylum seekers from the other if they present themselves at official land border crossings.

The unassuming cul-de-sac near the St-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que., customs has become an “official nonofficial point of entry” as a result, said Christina Clark-Kazak, associate professor at the University of Ottawa’s graduate school of public and international affairs.

Concrete blocks and rocks block roads on both sides of the border in the sparsely populated area. A narrow gravel path and signs with information about the asylum-seeking process lead migrants from the U.S. into RCMP installations.

The RCMP intercepted 34,478 asylum seekers who did not use official ports of entry to enter Quebec between January and November of 2022, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada data, compared to just 316 in the rest of the country.

Federal opposition parties have repeatedly called for a review of the Safe Third Country Agreement, but anxiety about the situation has been sharpest in Quebec.

“The federal government must renegotiate the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States as soon as possible,” said Ewan Sauves, spokesperson for Premier François Legault.

“There is an urgent need to act on Roxham Road,” said Mr. Sauves, adding that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “must ensure that the other provinces take charge of the proportion of asylum seekers that is theirs. It is not fair that it is only Quebec that has to manage this.”

Quebec is “concerned” about the increase in asylum applications since 2017 and its “ability to welcome these people with dignity and provide them with adequate services,” said Quebec Ministry of Immigration spokesperson Arianne Méthot.

The Safe Third Country Agreement is “an important tool,” said Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada spokesperson Jeffrey MacDonald, adding that modernizing the agreement “has been a priority for the government for several years.” He did not provide details “due to the sensitive nature of our bilateral discussions with the U.S.”

Mr. MacDonald also pointed out that, in 2021-22, Quebec received over $697-million in compensation from the federal government to “provide settlement and integration services in the province.”

Frédéric Bastien, a prominent nationalist author and former Parti Québécois leadership candidate, filed a private prosecution against the Prime Minister on Jan. 12 accusing Mr. Trudeau of violating Canadian law by encouraging “illegal” border crossings.

In his court filing, Mr. Bastien cites a tweet by Mr. Trudeau from 2017 welcoming refugees to Canada, which read, “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith.” The Prime Minister issued the message shortly after then-U.S. president Donald Trump banned travel to the U.S. from several majority-Muslim countries.

In an interview, Mr. Bastien also noted that the Trudeau government has erected facilities at Roxham Road that include instructions on how to apply for asylum.

“If this is not encouraging migrants to enter through Roxham Road I don’t know what is,” he said.

Public opinion appears to be on his side. Justice for Quebec, an organization led by Mr. Bastien, commissioned a poll late last year showing that 68 per cent of Quebeckers wanted to “close” the border crossing. A survey last spring by the respected polling firm Leger – commissioned by the Legault government and obtained by the Journal de Montréal newspaper – put the figure at 60 per cent.

But “stricter border enforcement policies correlate with increases in riskier crossings to evade authorities, and increases in tragic deaths” along borders globally, said Alison Mountz, professor at Wilfrid Laurier University and Canada Research Chair in Global Migration.

Ms. Gravel, who sees countless migrant buses and RCMP vehicles go by her property every day on Roxham Road, said that the flow is currently “very well-managed.” The RCMP “takes care of it,” she said.

And closing the passage “is not a solution,” said Mr. Anne, of Solidarity Across Borders. “Do you think that [the closing of] Roxham Road will stop migrants?” The group advocates for open borders and the termination of the Safe Third Country Agreement so that asylum seekers could go through regular customs to cross both ways.

He blames the agreement and the long wait for a work permit for Mr. Richard’s death, adding that he knows of several other people in the same situation. “Migrants are not looking for help, they want to work,” he said.

Source: Haitian migrant’s death reignites debate over Quebec’s Roxham Road border crossing

Poilievre mum on Tory MP’s ‘illegal refugees’ comment, calls for Roxham Road closure

Of note. He should know better than making the statement “It is not legal to cross there. That is a reality. It is not legal to cross there.” given that it is legal, if not desirable :

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre called for the closure of the Roxham Road irregular border crossing on Tuesday, but sidestepped questions about one of his MPs denying help to a family who used it to enter the country.

During a news conference on Parliament Hill,his first of 2023,he told reporters that he favours legal immigration but can understand the desperation that leads migrants to cross into Canada through the unofficial entry point south of Montreal.

“I understand why desperate people are trying to cross there,” he said. “Our system is now so slow and so broken.”

Poilievre pointed to the fact that the federal immigration department currently has a backlog of nearly 1.1 million applications to process, which was higher under periods of lockdown during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada reported that as of the end of November, it had 1.09 million applications in the queue that exceed the department’s service standard, a problem that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has committed to tackle.

The Tory leader argued Tuesday that fixing the problem could lead to fewer people crossing through unofficial entry points such as Roxham Road.

“It is not legal to cross there. That is a reality. It is not legal to cross there.”

Thousands of asylum-seekers have entered the country between official ports of entry in recent years and then made refugee claims once in Canada.

Those who come from the United States via official crossings can be turned away under Canada’s Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S., on the basis that claimants have access to fair asylum processes south of the border.

Radio-Canada reported last month that Quebec Conservative MP Richard Martel recently refused to help a family that was facing deportation after having entered Canada through Roxham Road in 2018, calling them “illegal refugees.”

Poilievre did not directly answer when asked about Martel’s comments Tuesday, but said the Liberal government should renegotiate the Canada-U.S. agreement “in order to close Roxham Road.”

He said Trudeau must fix the system so that people enter through official entry points, instead: “Renegotiate the deal with the Americans, and speed up the processing of immigration generally.”

In December, in a French interview with The Canadian Press,José Nicola Lopez said that his sister-in-law Leticia Cruz and her son had crossed into Canada via Roxham Road to join their relatives in 2018.

He said she did so because she feared expulsion under former president Donald Trump’s policies, and was afraid that a possible return to her home country of El Salvador could make her a target for street gangs.

Lopez said at the time that he found Martel’s comments to be “offensive” and “ignorant.” After Cruz was unable to get help from Martel, whose Chicoutimi-area riding she and her son call home, Bloc Québécois MP Mario Simard said he worked with Immigration Minister Sean Fraser to help the family avoid deportation.

Fraser, the Bloc and the NDP criticized Martel’s comments as lacking compassion.

In a recent interview with Radio-Canada, Martel declined to offer specifics about the case.

Speaking in French, he said the case was complex and that he declined to help knowing that the Bloc were in a position to do so. He said he would likely make the same decision if a similar file came across his desk, adding it’s a matter of “values.”

Source: Poilievre mum on Tory MP’s ‘illegal refugees’ comment, calls for Roxham Road closure

Québec a «tous les outils» nécessaires en immigration, estime Pablo Rodriguez

Agree, but it will be interesting to see the tone of the discussions on immigration powers. Roxham Road concerns by Quebec (and others) legitimate, but substantive action may alway await SCC decision on the Safe Third Country Agreement:

Le lieutenant pour le Québec du gouvernement fédéral, Pablo Rodriguez, estime que Québec a déjà « tous les outils » à sa disposition pour sélectionner davantage ses nouveaux arrivants et protéger le français.

Celui qui est aussi ministre du Patrimoine s’est néanmoins dit, mardi, ouvert à discuter des demandes du gouvernement de François Legault, fraîchement réélu la veille.

« On pourra discuter du sujet de l’immigration éventuellement, mais je pense que Québec a tous les outils en main actuellement pour choisir la très grande majorité de ses immigrants », a dit M. Rodriguez dans le foyer de la Chambre des communes.

Il a affirmé que la province a les pouvoirs de sélectionner jusqu’à 28 % des immigrants qu’elle accueille et qu’elle n’en choisit dans les faits que 13 %.

« Ce qui veut dire qu’il y a un autre [pourcentage d’immigrants] que Québec pourrait choisir et qui seraient entièrement francophones », a ajouté le lieutenant pour le Québec du gouvernement Trudeau.

La Presse canadienne n’avait pas vérifié, dans l’immédiat, l’exactitude des données énoncées par M. Rodriguez.

Durant la campagne électorale québécoise qui vient de se terminer, le chef de la Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ), François Legault, a évoqué l’idée de tenir un référendum sectoriel sur l’immigration dans le but de rapatrier davantage de pouvoirs dans le giron provincial.

Actuellement, l’immigration est une compétence partagée entre Québec et Ottawa. L’idée de la consultation populaire serait de demander aux électeurs d’appuyer la démarche visant à ce que le Québec contrôle davantage son immigration.

Appelé à préciser s’il considère qu’un pareil exercice serait « voué à l’échec », M. Rodriguez a répondu qu’il n’avait jamais eu vent de l’intention de Québec de tenir un référendum.

« On ne m’a jamais abordé avec cette proposition-là », a-t-il soutenu.

Concernant le chemin Roxham

Le ministre a par ailleurs assuré qu’Ottawa travaillera en collaboration avec Québec pour trouver une solution face aux passages irréguliers de migrants par le chemin Roxham, en Montérégie.

Il a dit que les négociations progressent avec les Américains pour moderniser l’Entente sur les tiers pays sûrs, qui est au coeur de ces passages. Questionnés sur ce point durant la période des questions par les bloquistes, les libéraux ont évité de fournir tout détail sur l’avancement des discussions.

« Ça dure depuis cinq ans le chemin Roxham. Ça fait des années que le fédéral négocie. […] Rendu là, on est en droit de se demander comment les négos avancent », a lancé le porte-parole du Bloc québécois en matière d’immigration, Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe.

La secrétaire parlementaire du ministre de l’Immigration, Marie-France Lalonde, n’a fourni aucune information sur l’état des négociations. « Le Canada partage la plus longue frontière démilitarisée au monde. Le chemin Roxham permet aux fonctionnaires de recueillir les pièces d’identité de ces demandeurs d’asile et de prévenir les traversées dangereuses. Ce que nous devons faire, c’est moderniser l’entente et c’est ce que nous faisons », a-t-elle affirmé.

M. Brunelle-Duceppe a vu dans cette réponse une confirmation qu’Ottawa avait bel et bien l’intention de faire des passages par le chemin Roxham une chose permanente. « Carrément, ils viennent de nous le dire ! », s’est-il insurgé.

Le ministre Rodriguez a pris la réplique pour appeler le Bloc québécois à « baisser le ton un peu ». Selon lui, le parti doit faire attention à ses propos pour éviter « de faire de la petite politique sur le dos d’hommes, de femmes, d’enfants qui, plus souvent qu’autrement, quittent des situations extrêmement difficiles ».

L’Entente sur les tiers pays sûrs fait en sorte qu’un réfugié potentiel qui se présente à un poste frontalier officiel canadien et qui a d’abord foulé le sol américain est refoulé, puisqu’il doit poursuivre sa demande d’asile dans le premier « lieu sûr » où il est arrivé.

Ainsi, des personnes souhaitant tout de même demander l’asile au Canada traversent la frontière canado-américaine par des passages de fortune, comme le chemin Roxham. Une fois qu’ils sont au Canada, leur demande d’asile peut être traitée.

Les bloquistes et néodémocrates demandent depuis longtemps la suspension de cet accord. De leur côté, les conservateurs souhaitent l’application uniforme de l’entente, poste d’entrée officiel ou non.

Source: Québec a «tous les outils» nécessaires en immigration, estime Pablo Rodriguez

Canada’s immigration backlog has never been worse

The ever increasing backlogs understandably continue to attract attention. However, apart from CILA and a few individuals, haven’t seen any call for a pause in applications or heaven forbid, reduced levels, to address the backlogs:

In tandem with the increasing backlog has also been a precipitous rise in Federal Court cases from frustrated applicants demanding a reply from the IRCC.

They’re called “mandamus cases,” and it’s essentially an application for the court to order a response from IRCC. Before the pandemic there were only a few dozen mandamus cases per year. Last year, there were more than 400.

In prior statements, the federal government has largely attributed the crushing IRCC delays to the COVID-19 pandemic and the avalanche of refugee applications from Afghanistan and Ukraine. Last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the formation of a special committee to figure out how to reduce wait times.

Amid history-making line-ups at Canadian airports and passport offices, an absolutely crushing backlog at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is putting them all to shame.

According to numbers obtained from the IRCC by the immigration-focused publication CIC News, there are now 2.7 million people waiting for Ottawa to process their immigration application.

The backlog encompasses every application filed to IRCC, from citizenship to visas to requests for permanent residency. The backlog of citizenship applications alone stands at 444,792, while most of the list (1.7 million) is applications for temporary residence.

Not only is it the worst immigration backlog of all time, but it is growing exponentially with each passing week. This time last year, the backlog was just 1.5 million names, according to CIC News. In just the last 30 days, the list has grown by 300,000 — an increase of roughly 1,000 new applicants per day.

All told, there are now more people awaiting a reply from the IRCC than there are residents of Atlantic Canada. As of press time, the population of all four Atlantic provinces (including Newfoundland and Labrador) is roughly 2.5 million.

If the backlog continues to grow at the current rate, it will only be another four months until the number of applicants awaiting processing by the IRCC is equivalent to 10 per cent of the Canadian population of 38 million.

This has thrown immigration wait times into complete disarray at the precise time that Canada is touting itself as a haven for refugees, most notably from Afghanistan and Ukraine.

Many of those 2.7 million represent foreign nationals dwelling in a kind of awkward limbo as they spend years awaiting updates from the IRCC.

Last month, Pakistani man Kazim Ali told CTV he applied for Canada’s Express Entry program in 2020, when the estimated wait for a reply was six months. Two years later, he hasn’t heard a thing, bringing the life of he and his wife “to a screeching halt” as they delay career choices and even children until they can hear back.

An increasingly overwhelmed IRCC is also making it difficult to reliably schedule any event in Canada that involves foreign nationals. Last month, both a Montreal AIDS symposium and a major Toronto tech conference saw dozens of invitees unable to attend because of difficulties in obtaining Canadian visas.

In a recent report by the Business Council of Canada, Canadian employers cited “processing delays” as the top barrier to recruiting international talent.

“Frustrated by application processing delays, complex rules, and the cost of navigating the system, fewer than a quarter (of survey respondents) say the immigration system currently serves their business needs well,” it read.

In tandem with the increasing backlog has also been a precipitous rise in Federal Court cases from frustrated applicants demanding a reply from the IRCC.

They’re called “mandamus cases,” and it’s essentially an application for the court to order a response from IRCC. Before the pandemic there were only a few dozen mandamus cases per year. Last year, there were more than 400.

In prior statements, the federal government has largely attributed the crushing IRCC delays to the COVID-19 pandemic and the avalanche of refugee applications from Afghanistan and Ukraine. Last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the formation of a special committee to figure out how to reduce wait times.

Source: Canada’s immigration backlog has never been worse 

Brian Lilley on Roxham Road (usual hyperbole about Trudeau’s tweet):

In the first six months of this year, more people crossed illegally into Canada at Roxham Road in Quebec than in all of 2019. The asylum seekers fast-track route may have all but shut down for much of the pandemic, but now it’s back in business with gusto.

According to the latest federal figures, 16,319 people entered Canada at “irregular” border crossings in Quebec between Jan. 1, 2022, and June 30, 2022. That includes 3,449 in May and 3,066 in June.

Those are the second- and third-highest months on record, surpassed only by August 2017.

By comparison, in 2019 a total of 16,136 people crossed at Roxham Road, and there were 18,518 illegal crossers in 2018 and 18,836 in 2017. The advent of COVID-19 saw the flow of asylum seekers at the Quebec-New York border slow to a trickle with just over 3,000 in 2020 and just over 4,000 in 2021, with most of them coming in December of that year.

This whole thing started when Justin Trudeau put out a tweet welcoming the world to Canada as then newly elected president Donald Trump threatened to deport people back to Haiti from the United States. What was lost on most is that Trump was ending a program that allowed people to stay in the U.S. if they were displaced by the earthquake or at risk following Haiti’s 2004 coup. Canada had ended a similar program years earlier under the Harper government and Trudeau had kept the policy in place and was removing people even as he criticized Trump.

With Trump threatening to do what Canada had already done, many looked north, and Trudeau welcomed them with open arms.

“To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada” Trudeau tweeted on January 28, 2017.

Days later, embassy staff from Mexico were writing to officials at Global Affairs seeking advice on how to handle people looking to declare refugee status in Canada.

“We are receiving an increasing number of enquiries from the public about requesting refugee status in Canada, and a number clearly having links with our Prime Minister’s tweet this weekend,” one email read.

It wasn’t just staff in Mexico. Word spread that Canada would take anyone as a refugee and many decided to use the illegal border crossing to skip dealing with the system.

Since then, more than 77,000 people — that’s more than the population of Belleville, Ont. or Chateauguay, Que. — have crossed at Roxham alone. The government has built special processing facilities there, establishing posts for immigration and RCMP officers to process people.

This is nothing short of the Liberals attempting to import another American political issue into Canada to wedge the Conservatives. In Canada, Conservatives support high numbers for legal immigration, something we saw throughout the Harper years.

What Conservatives don’t support is people who break the law.

This is where we get into word games. The Liberals claim no one is breaking the law, that these are asylum seekers and under Canadian — and international — law it is legal for them to seek asylum. The reality is, the government has giant signs warning people that it is illegal to cross at Roxham and the RCMP give verbal warnings that anyone doing so will be arrested for breaking the law.

They only claim asylum once arrested.

Nigeria is the biggest source of people crossing at Roxham and just 30% of the more than 16,000 who crossed there between February 2017 and March 2022 were accepted as valid refugees. For the more than 10,000 Haitians who crossed — the second-largest source country, just 23% were accepted.

Roxham Road has become a way for those looking to skip the long delays in legal, economic migration to get into Canada.

This isn’t how a properly functioning immigration and refugee system should work, but very little of what the Trudeau government is doing these days is working properly.

Source: LILLEY: Trudeau continues immigration games as Roxham Road sees record numbers

Quebec’s Roxham Road on track to see record number of asylum seekers — but they face delays and despair in post-pandemic Canada

As do many others…

In Pascal’s Canadian dream, he becomes a doctor.

He’s only been in the country a month. He has a long way to go. But consider how long he’s been running, and how far he came to get here.

He left his home in Cap-Haïtien, on the north coast of Haiti, for the Dominican Republic, which occupies the eastern half of the island of Hispanola, right next to Cuba.

From there, he travelled with others in a car to Brazil. From Brazil, west to Peru, then north, through Ecuador, Colombia and Panama, where they were set upon by thieves who stole pretty much everything — except for the money that Pascal had hidden in a hollowed-out deodorant container.

This money allowed him to continue his northward journey, through Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and the United States, said 39-year-old Pascal, who requested that his last name not be published for security and privacy reasons.

On May 21, he arrived at the Canada-U.S. border, where more than 13,000 people so far this year have been arrested by Royal Canadian Mounted Police as they take their first hesitant steps along a dirt path at the end of Roxham Road onto Canadian soil.

Technically a dead-end street, Roxham Road is a sleepy country route watched by high-tech border surveillance cameras. The passage that starts in New York state and continues into Hemmingford, Que., stands as the worst-kept secret of those seeking refuge from despots, disasters and all manner of dire circumstances, including North American immigration laws.

Thanks to the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions on border crossings, the return of air travel and a general increase in the numbers of people seeking asylum, 2022 is on track to become a record year for the controversial crossing point.

The federal government, which screens newcomers to determine their eligibility to make a refugee claim, is now straining to keep pace with the flow.

The result is delay and despair: a months-long wait during which asylum seekers receive social assistance payments but are denied a temporary work permit in a country struggling to meet its labour needs.

“They want to work,” said Stéphanie Valois, president of the Quebec Association of Immigration Lawyers. “They’ve got nothing — no money, no furniture. They’ve got nothing and they need it.”

This could also be a decisive and pivotal moment for a haphazard arrangement that allows refugee claimants to cross at Roxham Road, make their asylum claim while already on Canadian soil, and thus bypass the terms of the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, which obliges asylum seekers to make their claim in the first country they reach.

The Quebec government, facing a fall re-election, wants Ottawa to plug the hole in the nearly 9,000-kilometre Canada-U.S. border, saying that it has neither the resources nor capacity to deal with the flow of migrants.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear a constitutional challenge to the Safe Third Country Agreement which, if successful, could allow asylum seekers to make a claim at any official Canadian border crossing — spreading Quebec’s burden more equitably across the country.

“We have an obligation to examine the cases of people who seek protection here,” says Wendy Ayotte, founder of Bridges not Borders, a support group for asylum seekers.

“Of course it is correct to say that it isn’t a fair distribution of people entering irregularly into Canada. Obviously it’s not fairly distributed across the country, but surely the response … is to call for the end of the (Safe Third Country Agreement) and then people can go anywhere.”

The Star met Pascal, a community organizer who said he was beaten and threatened by members of a local Haitian political party, at Maison d’Haïti, a Montreal community centre where he had come, immigration documents in hand, to consult Peggy Larose, a social worker.

From her cramped office behind the reception desk and the centre’s coffee bar, Larose helps Haitian refugee claimants complete their myriad forms and find housing, food and jobs, all while listening to the thoughts that weigh heavily on their minds.

“They are long stories and difficult stories. There are stories that rip you apart, that make you want to scream and cry out,” she said, recounting the plight of one couple who told her how their young daughter had been struck and killed by a truck while they travelled through Mexico, and was buried where she died.

Evidence of the great distances and hardships that people endure to get to Canada lies in the high grass on either side of Roxham Road.

The two halves of an identification card for a 25-year-old woman who stayed at a homeless shelter in Portland, Maine; part of a bright yellow Bancolombia bank card; the four ripped quarters of a blue plastic pass issued to a Nigerian man upon his admission to to a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement processing centre in Tacoma, Wash.

Relics, secrets or the shame from past lives that people hope to leave behind.

Last Sunday, a group of seven people — three men and four women — boarded American Airlines Flight 1280 from Phoenix to New York, paying $378.60 (U.S.) each for the second-to-last leg of their journey to Canada. Their tickets were recovered floating in the water of a stream that runs alongside Roxham Road.

The next day, Monday, a woman named Jakelina boarded an Adirondack Trailways bus in New York City at 6:30 p.m., arrived in Plattsburgh, N.Y., at 1:20 a.m. on Tuesday and made her way toward Roxham Road, discarding the receipt for the $77.25 trip moments before starting a new life in a new country.

Roxham Road owes its popularity among those fleeing their homeland to the immigration policies of former U.S. president Donald Trump.

In January 2017, Trump signed an executive order banning Syrian refugees and blocking citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States — the so-called Muslim ban.

Later that year, 58,000 Haitians living in the U.S. learned of Trump’s plan to let their “Temporary Protected Status” expire, depriving them of protections under the special programs for migrants from countries deemed unsafe or which had suffered humanitarian emergencies, as Haiti did during the 2010 earthquake.

These policies prompted a flight to Canada with little modern precedent as asylum seekers took advantage of a loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement that allowed them to avoid being forcibly returned to the U.S. by crossing into Canada at a spot between official border posts — something known as an “irregular border crossing.”

In 2017, 18,836 people were intercepted by the RCMP crossing irregularly into Canada in the province of Quebec, compared to 1,018 who were intercepted in Ontario and 718 in British Columbia, 14 in Saskatchewan and six in Alberta.

The phenomenon — and the provincial ratio — continued in 2018 and 2019 but dropped sharply with the arrival of COVID and the closure of the Canada-U.S. border.

“If you crossed at Roxham Road, you were given a notice by the Canadian government known as a ‘direct back’ notice, which means that we’re not willing to hear your claim right now, we’re going to send you back to the U.S. and at some later date when we think the time is good we will allow you to return to pursue your claim,” says Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees.

She says that some of those who wanted to make refugee claims in Canada were subsequently detained in U.S. immigration detention centres and, in at least a few instances, were deported to their country of origin.

When the Canada-U.S. border reopened in November 2021 asylum seekers returned almost immediately to Roxham Road.

Compared to October 2021, when there were 96 RCMP interceptions, 832 people were picked up after crossing in November and 2,778 in December. That monthly tally has remained steady through to May 2022 — the last month for which statistics are available — when 3,449 people entered through the Quebec crossing.

In response to questions from the Star, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said that federal officials “continuously monitor conditions and developments in other countries to inform our planning.”

The government declined to speak about the possible reasons for the increased volume of people crossing the border, though others attribute it to the newfound freedom of movement that people around the world are experiencing after lengthy pandemic lockdowns

“I think it’s just normal that — like everyone else — people are starting to move again. These are people who were blocked in their home countries or in transit on their way to Canada,” says Valois, who practises immigration law in Montreal.

“Looking at the bigger picture, there are many more people entering the United States each day and there is also an increase in the number of asylum seekers who arrive in the U.S., so the percentage of those who make it to Canada is really small.”

Not so small that they escaped the attention of Quebec Premier François Legault.

In mid-May, Legault, who casts himself as a fiscally conservative nationalist whose policies are guided by common sense, complained about the “unacceptable” number of people crossing the border into the province and the strain it was placing on the province’s resources.

“We are the only province that has a wide-open road named Roxham, and the federal government, which is responsible for controlling the borders, is not doing its job,” he said.

Legault added that there is a long delay in making an initial eligibility assessment to determine whether there are sufficient grounds for a refugee-claim hearing. During this time, the province is obliged by law to provide health-care services and financial assistance to asylum seekers, he complained.

“A good number of these people aren’t real refugees,” the Quebec premier said in a news conference. “A refugee is someone who faces physical risk in their country, but the majority are not refugees and eventually, when their case is analyzed, they are refused and returned to their country.”

Data from the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada from February 2017 to March 2022 on refugee claims made by irregular border crossers such as those who enter Canada through Roxham Road would appear to contradict Legault’s claim.

Of more than 63,000 claims, nearly 28,000 were accepted and 19,000 rejected while some 6,000 were abandoned or withdrawn. More than 11,000 claims are waiting to be heard.

But government statistics show that refugee claims made by individuals from the two largest source countries of irregular border crossers — Nigeria and Haiti — find their demands for protection from Canada rejected more often than they are accepted.

Marjorie Villefranche, Maison d’Haïti’s general manager, says Haitians are compelled to come to Canada not so much due to the widespread poverty in the country but because of the violence and insecurity in their native land.

“They say, ‘If I remain here, I will die. I will die with my children.’ What family would accept to stay and die?” she asked. “Anyone would try to do whatever they can to save their lives and to save the lives of their children.”

Villefranche says that it was “exaggerated” to claim that a wealthy country such as Canada could be overloaded by an influx of 20,000 or 30,000 refugee claimants, as the Quebec government claims.

“I think that, as a rich country it’s the least we can do to receive a certain number of refugees,” she says. “There are even poor countries that receive a million or two million refugees across their borders.”

Post-pandemic, Canada is nevertheless struggling to keep up with the flow of asylum seekers.

Upon arrival on Canadian soil, people undergo an initial interview where border agents record their identities, take fingerprints and make biometric recordings. Once their file is created, they are able to receive health care and social assistance.

But it is not until a more thorough admissibility investigation is conducted that a refugee claimant is eligible to receive a temporary work permit.

Dench, from the Canadian Council for Refugees, says a delay that was once limited to several days has now stretched to a months-long wait because officials conduct more extensive security checks that include the exchange of biometric data with other countries.

“They are so keen to exclude people from the refugee determination system that they make a system that is unworkable and starts accumulating these huge backlogs,” she says.

In response to the Star’s questions about delays, a spokesperson for the Canada Border Services Agency said the time required to complete an eligibility check depends on the complexity of the case, the availability of information and the amount of research required.

Legault, the Quebec premier, put this delay at 14 months. Pascal, the Haitian asylum seeker who arrived in May, says he was told he would have to wait until March 2023 before he would receive an eligibility ruling — meaning he will not legally be able to work for 10 months.

Valois, the immigration lawyer, said the delay in receiving an admissibility hearing was “relatively new” and “really problematic.”

“The client wants to work. They want to get moving. They want to have a hearing. They want to be heard. The delay is not to their advantage.”

In an post-pandemic economy that is experiencing desperate labour shortages, the delay in approving work permits for people ready and willing to work is not to the country’s advantage either.

“It’s so ridiculous when you see that so many employers are wanting to employ people and yet the federal government is keeping people in this kind of limbo state because they can’t even get them through the first part of the process,” says Dench.

Another young Haitian couple arrived in Canada in April after a seven-month period in the U.S. during which they were held in detention and the man was forced to wear an ankle bracelet to track his movements.

He wants to find work as a driver, eventually. She said she would like to train to become a caregiver in a hospital — a line of work that, by some estimates, up to 2,000 asylum seekers in Quebec took up during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the needs were greatest.

The couple did not want to provide their names, nor would they discuss the reasons they had for seeking refugee protection from Canada.

But they were happy to share the details of their first Canadian victory — finding an apartment of their own that will allow them to finally leave the downtown Montreal shelter that they and hundreds of other refugee claimants call home.

It’s a studio apartment. It will cost them $850 a month, not including utilities. That will leave them less than $300 a month to eat, to support themselves as well as the baby boy due to enter the world this fall.

Source: Quebec’s Roxham Road on track to see record number of asylum seekers — but they face delays and despair in post-pandemic Canada

There are legitimate concerns regarding the undue burden on Quebec given that over 99 percent of irregular arrivals occur there (2022 to date):

The federal government is starting to relocate asylum seekers who have crossed irregularly into Quebec from the United States, following a rise in the number of would-be refugees at the border.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada says that as of June 30, officials have started to transfer a “small number” of asylum seekers to Ottawa and Niagara Falls to help reduce the pressure on Quebec. The department didn’t give details.

More than 13,250 refugee claimants were intercepted outside official points of entry in Quebec by border agents between January and May, mostly at Roxham Road — a rural road leading from the U.S. into the province.

That is more than double the number of people who crossed irregularly into Quebec during the same period in 2019, before the entry points into Canada were closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Roxham Road was reopened to would-be refugees in November 2021.

Premier François Legault has asked the federal government to shut down Roxham Road because of the pressure the rise in asylum seekers is putting on Quebec’s ability to care for the newcomers.

The Canada Border Services Agency says it has increased its capacity to temporarily house asylum seekers at the Roxham Road crossing, to 477 people from 297.

Source: Ottawa starting to transfer ‘small number’ of asylum seekers to Ontario from Quebec