Four Reasons to Keep Allowing Refugees into Canada

I don’t find these arguments terribly convincing.

Travel restrictions by themselves only slow down the spread of viruses like COVID-19. But at a time where “planking the curve” is a priority to assist our healthcare system handle current and anticipated increased demand, it is one tool that government’s have. Implementing widespread screening at airports was not terribly effective during SARS (“health theatre” just like “security theatre.”)

While some migrants will, of course, find a way, the numbers will likely decrease, reducing the potential additional burden on healthcare (and the IRB).

And and the recent MPI study, Coronavirus Is Spreading across Borders, But It Is Not a Migration Problem, shows, while travel restrictions have limited effectiveness in the containment phase, they are more effective in the mitigation phase in which we find ourselves.

Is the policy immoral? Or does it strike a reasonably balance between protecting Canadian residents and asylum seekers who arrive at official border crossings? Is Canada a “classist society, partially determined by citizenship status.” Of course it is, citizenship does have meaning. But Canada’s implementation of all travel restrictions is inclusive: citizens, Permanent Residents, and immediate family members who fall into neither category.

One can, as many have, that the measures are illegal, as is the STCA with the US. In the current context, not sure such arguments would prevail, in particular given the large number, and ever increasing number, of COVID-19 cases in the USA and the lack of effective US policies to contain the pandemic.

We are all in this together, but there are better and more comprehensive ways to support international cooperation than simply focusing on irregular arrivals:

On Friday morning, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that the government would restrict the movement of people across our borders as an unprecedented measure to stop the spread of COVID-19. Starting this Wednesday, asylum seekers who cross the border at unofficial ports of entry — known as irregular migrants — will be arrested and handed over to American authorities.

This is a marked departure from the government’s previous position. Just a day earlier, the government promised that it would continue to allow people to cross into Canada, ensuring they screen and isolate anyone who crossed the border for two weeks in federal facilities.

While it’s important to acknowledge that we are facing a pandemic, and every decision is difficult and crucial, closing the border to irregular migrants is not the answer. This policy is ineffective, immoral and likely illegal.

1. The new policy is ineffective

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said that while asylum seekers do not represent a higher public health risk, the efforts required to monitor and isolate them would be difficult during these trying times.

Indeed, welcoming and monitoring migrants while in quarantine requires resources, but it will also require many resources to monitor the closed border and co-ordinate the return of these migrants with the U.S. How many resources will we actually free up by this policy?

Most importantly, this won’t stop the spread of COVID-19.

The World Health Organization hasn’t recommended closing borders to curb COVID-19. Instead, it has instructed countries to ensure appropriate screening measures are in place at ports of entry and to promote thorough hygiene practices and social distancing.

If Canada was to follow the advice of WHO we would conduct an individualized assessment of every person entering the country, move them to a temporary shelter facility, and be asked to self-isolate. This process would be just as, or more, stringent than those in place right now for Canadian and American citizens. And it’s what Trudeau had previously announced Canada would do.

Furthermore, this policy won’t stop migrants from making their way into Canada. As we’ve seen time and time again in Europe, closing the border doesn’t stop migration, it just makes it more dangerous. Migrants won’t abandon their hopes of reaching safety simply because a government tells them to. Rather, they will be pushed to take clandestine routes into Canada.

In this new policy, migrants who make it into Canada will not be quarantined for 14 days, increasing the risk of spreading the virus. Once they are in Canada, they’ll be forced to live underground and will be too afraid to seek medical attention if sick, further exacerbating the spread.

If anything, closing known border crossing points like Roxham Road will put the health of Canadians at greater risk.

We also can’t forget, COVID-19 isn’t happening in a vacuum. This is a global pandemic, and pushing migrants out of Canada won’t stop COVID-19, it will just move it somewhere else. Migrants will be left to wander through the U.S., trying to find safety, and potentially spreading the virus throughout communities.

European Union sources have said that refusing entry to anyone is not considered an appropriate preventive measure, because “the virus would spread further since those potential patients would keep moving in the region without being treated.” European Union experts are instead urging countries to have systematic checks for all arrivals.

Back in January, at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, WHO warned that closing the borders could actually spread the virus more quickly. WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said that by closing official border crossings, countries can “lose track of people and cannot monitor (their movement) anymore.”

2. The new policy is immoral

The government of Canada is capitalizing on the chaos of COVID-19 to push through a policy that oppresses the most vulnerable. It is taking advantage of a global pandemic to pander to xenophobic and racist fears.

Sealing the border to irregular migrants reaffirms that ours is a classist society, partially determined by citizenship status. This policy implicitly states that citizens deserve the safety and comfort of Canada, but migrants do not.

Minister Blair characterized turning away migrants as a step toward closing the border for all but “essential” travel. What travel is more “essential” than seeking refuge?

It’s worth noting that the border closure exempts international students and temporary foreign workers and Canada is still allowing American citizens into Canada. These many exceptions illustrate that the border closure isn’t about blocking non-Canadian citizens, but seizing this moment of panic to turn our backs on irregular migrants, a plan the government has long been musing.

3. The new policy is likely illegal

Aside from this policy being immoral, there’s a good chance that the new policy is illegal, and human rights and refugee groups in Canada have been quick to condemn it.

In its press release, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers said, the new policy “is unnecessary and unjustified, and it puts refugees at risk.”

Alex Neve, the Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada, condemns closing the border, noting that “refugees and migrants face considerable risks in the face of the pandemic and are frequently demonized and ostracized as public health threats.” Neve said that “turning refugee claimants over to U.S. border control officials at a time like this violates international law and is just plain cruel.”

Under international law and the 1951 Refugee Convention, Canada has an obligation to allow asylum seekers to launch a refugee claim and have their case heard. By automatically returning all irregular migrants to the U.S., we are ignoring international law and shirking our obligations.

In addition, human rights organizations have fervently opposed the Safe Third Country Agreement for decades now, arguing that the U.S. is not a safe place for refugees.

In the U.S., asylum seekers are prevented from making a refugee claim if they wait more than one year, are often denied access to counsel, and are detained while their claims are assessed. In recent years, the situation has only worsened. Trump has held migrant children in cages, implemented the Muslim ban, housed migrants in tent cities, barred asylum claims based on domestic violence and gang violence, and ripped babies from mothers’ arms.

Canada may also be violating its obligations of non-refoulement — which stipulates that countries cannot return asylum seekers to a country where they would risk persecution — by sending migrants back to the U.S.

There is a very real possibility that the U.S. will send migrants back to countries where they could face persecution. The Trump administration has brokered agreements with El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala — countries from which countless refugees flee — mandating migrants to apply for refugee protection in those countries on their journey to the U.S. The U.S. already has an established practice of sending migrants back to Guatemala, where Indigenous people and women, in particular, face extreme rates of violence. All of this violates the international obligations to not return asylum seekers to persecution, and Canada will now be complicit in these “chain pushbacks.”

Given these bilateral agreements, and the fact that the U.S. government is still conducting raids and deporting people during the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada cannot argue that sending migrants back to the U.S. is in line with our legal obligations.

The government has emphasized that this measure will only remain in place during the COVID-19 crisis, but we should take this with a very large grain of salt. The Safe Third Country Agreement was created during the aftermath of 9/11, when it may have seemed reasonable. But the panic of 9/11 is long gone, and the agreement still remains. It’s very likely that this policy will also stay in place permanently. As Justin Mohammed from Amnesty International Canada said, “History demonstrates that when we see the rollback of certain human rights, the unwinding of that action has been very difficult.”

4. We’re all in this together

As Canada and other countries around the world close their borders in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19, IOM reminds us that, “it is critical that such measures be implemented in a non-discriminatory manner, in line with international law, and prioritizing the protection of the most vulnerable.”

We are in unchartered territory. It’s understandable that Canada wants to do everything it can to protect its country from a deadly virus, but it doesn’t have to be one or the other: we can protect Canadian health while at the same time upholding human rights and protecting asylum seekers.

As always with human rights, it’s a balancing act. As we make difficult decisions to combat this pandemic, we cannot lightly compromise human rights and must account for every competing factor. Just as we balance the freedoms of assembly, association and religion of Canadian citizens against their right to life and health, we must also balance the right to life, liberty, and security of the person of irregular migrants.

As Eric Paulsen has written, we must implement public health measures “in a way that is justifiable in line with international standards. Any limitations on our rights must be necessary, proportionate and in the pursuit of a legitimate aim.”

Canadian citizens are scared, but so are migrants. Migrants face the same health threats from COVID-19 as citizens.

The world is at war, but for the first time in history, the entire world is fighting a common enemy. Let’s use this moment to embrace unity and care for one another.  [Tyee]


Sun EDITORIAL: It’s OK to criticize Trudeau, even in a crisis

Almost passive-aggressive commentary, repeating Conservative lines about irregular arrivals and the PMs infamous tweet, while not mentioning the previous Conservative government had failed to secure such an agreement in 2010 with the USA.

Alternate spin would be to congratulate the government for having taken advantage of the COVID-19 crisis to obtain finally an agreement with a US government less open to the concerns of allies.

I suspect the official opposition was less instrumental than pressures from provincial governments, particularly Quebec, given the potential additional impact on their healthcare system at a time of COVID-19 pressures:

We realize that in the current circumstances forced upon him by COVID-19, Trudeau faces many tough choices, where there is no perfect choice, and that any decision he makes will not satisfy everyone.

But none of this means the prime minister is above criticism.

That what happens in dictatorships like China, where the COVID-19 outbreak began, not in democracies like Canada, where criticizing the government of the day is a fundamental, constitutional right.

We believe the prime minister did not respond quickly enough to closing Canada’s borders to air travel and the U.S.-Canada border to anything but vital commercial traffic.

We believe he waited far too long — years — before finally shutting down the illegal Roxham Rd. entry point from the U.S. into Quebec, late last week.

That’s where more than 50,000 irregular asylum seekers have entered our country, spurred on in part by Trudeau’s ill-advised, anti-Trump, virtue-signalling, tweet on Jan. 28, 2017 that:

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

The fact Trudeau has finally, for now, closed this illegal entry point into Canada is in large part due to long-standing, legitimate pressure from Conservative MPs.

That’s what the official opposition is supposed to do — criticize the government when its members believe the government is wrong — and offer an alternative instead.

The Conservatives have now been vindicated, along with several Sun Media columnists, who were unjustly portrayed as racists by Liberal apologists for urging Trudeau to do what he has finally done — close down Roxham Rd. — as a public health and safety measure, in light of COVID-19.

The prime minister can also be criticized for failing to keep his 2015 election commitment that Canada would have a $1 billion surplus under his leadership this year.

What we have instead is a $26.6 billion deficit, meaning we’ll have to go far deeper into debt to pay for the necessary income-replacement and stimulus package the Trudeau government announced last week.

Source: EDITORIAL: It’s OK to criticize Trudeau, even in a crisis

The dark side of Canada’s coronavirus response

Fairly representative of criticism of the government’s action in closing the loophole in the STCA that exempts asylum seekers who cross the border outside of official border crossings from being subject to being sent back to the USA.

In general, the critics also oppose the STCA itself, not just the closing of the loophole given concerns over the US asylum determination system, particularly under the Trump administration (understandable).

As the government had already been signalling before the election, and confirmed vaguely in the mandate letter (relevant para below), the surprise is more with respect how the government managed to secure US agreement, one that the Conservative government was unable to achieve in 2010.

“Lead the Government’s work on irregular migration, with the support of the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, including the new Border Enforcement Strategy and continued work with the United States to modernize the Safe Third Country Agreement.”

Given the current and anticipated pressures on the healthcare system due to COVID-19, valid decision, irrespective of whether the COVID-19 prevalence is more, the same, or less than the the Canadian population or those citizens and permanent residents returning to Canada.

Case of prisoners is different as they are existing residents and we have a direct responsibility to them:

We will see whether this becomes a permanent change or not.

These are, as Ottawa keeps reminding us, extraordinary times. And extraordinary action must be taken to contain COVID-19 and avert this global pandemic getting worse. But the federal government is decidedly not taking extraordinary measures when it comes to some of those who are most vulnerable to the deadly virus.

On Friday morning, news broke that a prison guard at the Toronto South Detention Centre, which houses provincial inmates and those awaiting a court hearing, had tested positive for COVID-19. That should have provoked some extraordinary action.

Prisons are incredibly busy places—inmates are admitted and released, while a litany of support staff and guards come-and-go every day. They are also, generally, crowded, poorly-kept, and lack essential health services. They are incredibly at-risk for infectious diseases.

That risk has pushed officials in New York, Los Angeles and Cleveland to take the most effective action to reduce the possibility of outbreaks in their prisons: Releasing inmates who are incarcerated on non-violent offences, or who are low-risk at re-offending.

Italy is evidence of what happens when those risks aren’t addressed. Amid fears of COVID-19, prison riots broke out, leaving six dead and inmates spilling out of the prison walls.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has called on Ottawa to “to put public health ahead of fear” and immediately stop incarcerating those who pose little risk to the public, and release low-risk inmates who are elderly or immunocompromised.

Despite this, Canada has no intention of releasing inmates. Asked on Friday morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau insisted “we understand the heightened risk in those institutions,” but said only that he would “take measures to keep our incarcerated population safe.” He did not answer a question about releasing non-violent and low-risk offenders.

Those measures have, seemingly, involved depriving prisoners of their limited chance to leave their cells. Ottawa lawyer Michael Spratt told me that one of his clients was given an extra bottle of disinfectant spray as a vanguard against the virus.

“Most of the jail population has been locked down in their cells for prolonged periods of time—sometimes three to a cell,” he says. Staffing is an issue, and inmates in some cases have not been allowed to video conference with their lawyers.

Simon Cheung, with Prisoners’ Legal Services in B.C., reported that conditions haven’t substantially changed at the Kent Institution, near Vancouver. A floor flooded last week, since then prisons have been in virtual lockdown. The water was only half drained, Cheung says. Two days after the flooding, prisoners were given just 15 minutes out of their cell. “They had to choose between mopping up the water and taking a shower,” Cheung says. Prisoners report that the jail is absolutely filthy and strewn with garbage.

Spratt says, in the absence of leadership from the politicians, Crown attorneys have been finding “creative solutions,” like agreeing to postpone cases until the summer while releasing the accused to house arrest. He says the Crown has been more receptive to probation over jail time, as well.

At the same press conference, Trudeau announced plans to close the border to all irregular migrants, turning them over to American authorities.

This, just a day after Acting Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Ken Cuccinelli told Fox News that immigration enforcement would continue during the pandemic. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the American agency responsible for arresting and deporting non-citizens, has also announced that arrest of undocumented migrants would slow, but not stop entirely.

For years, Trudeau has resisted pressure to send back asylum seekers who cross at irregular points of entry, especially those coming over at Roxham Road, in Quebec. The migrants have crossed have been arrested by the RCMP, taken to detention facilities, and given a chance to file refugee claims—roughly half of those who have had their claims finalized in recent years have had their refugee claims approved.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, there have been unfounded fears stoked that those migrants could carry the virus across the border. It’s led Conservative Party leadership contenders Peter MacKay and Erin O’Toole to call for a crack down on the border. Quebec Premier François Legault also took aim at the border crossers this week. “It’s unacceptable that these asylum seekers are able to come into our country via Roham Road without being placed in isolation,” he said at a press conference.

On Thursday, federal ministers, promising that there would be no squabbling about jurisdiction, promised to isolate the border-crossers for 14 days in federal facilities.

That story changed quickly, as Trudeau announced Friday morning that Canadian authorities would arrest everyone crossing at Roxham Road and hand them over to American authorities.

“Someone who comes to the border to request asylum will be turned back to American authorities,” Trudeau said Friday.

At a second press conference an hour later, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair clarified, saying that “in the overwhelming majority of circumstances, they won’t be detained, they’ll simply be returned back to the United States.” Only in cases where the would-be border-jumper is a dangerous criminal would they be detained, he said. There would be an exception as well for unaccompanied minors who have “American nationality,” Blair said.

A statement from his spokesperson, Mary-Liz Power, confirmed Friday evening that any border-crosser “will be arrested by the RCMP, brought to CBSA for processing, and returned to [Customs and Border Protection] in the United States.”

Full details about the plan had not been released as of Friday night, just hours before the measures were scheduled to take effect.

It is still not clear whether Canada has received assurances from Washington that returned travellers will not, in fact, be detained. Trudeau said only that “we also have ensured that we are comfortable with this process as being in line with canada’s values on the treatment of refugees and vulnerable people”

A request for comment to Homeland Security went unanswered.

It’s also not clear whether this is, strictly speaking, legal. Canada has an international obligation to allow refugee applicants to make their case. Ottawa has long contended that its safe third country agreement, which holds that asylum seekers should make an application in the first ‘safe’ country they arrive in, gives it the authority to return migrants to the United States. Even still, Canada has continued to hear asylum seekers’ cases despite that agreement.

Amnesty International Canada was apoplectic at the news. Alex Neve, secretary general of the NGO, called it an “unexpected and shocking reversal.” In a release, Neve said that the decision means Canada is “violating our important international obligations to refugees, at a time when concern about their vulnerability to COVID-19 mounts worldwide. Canada is better than this.”

ICE facilities have been consistently slammed by civil liberties groups as being little more than warehouses with cages. Migrants are packed into these facilities, and often lack access to even soap. Staff in at least one ICE facility, in New Jersey, have tested positive for COVID-19.

While many of the border-crossers crossing at Roxham Road may have status in America, by way of a tourist or work visa, that does not guarantee them permanent residence, or a successful refugee claim. Indeed, more than 12,000 claimants have successfully been given refugee status in Canada since early 2017.

Washington, meanwhile, has rejected a huge number of those claims, and the Trump administration has enacted harsh new rules designed to bar many migrants already in the country from filing asylum claims altogether.

Blair says the number of new border-crossers has declined significantly, from an average of about 45 to 50 people per day down to 17 on Thursday. The minister continued that “there is no evidence that they are a higher health risk.”

Neither Trudeau, nor Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, nor Blair could convey what, exactly, changed between Wednesday, when Ottawa announced it would shut the American border to non-essential travel but continue bringing in irregular border crossers as before, and Friday when the new policy was enacted.

Detaining people in tight quarters, crammed into cells, in unsanitary conditions, with a lack of health care is no way to fight a pandemic.


Chris Selley: Politicians need to stop insulting our intelligence if we’re going to survive

Remarkable how quickly things develop.

Chris Selley’s sensible commentary on irregular arrivals and slamming of the main CPC leadership contenders on their playing to their base is suddenly moot given the government managed to successfully negotiate an end, on a temporary basis, to the STCA loophole that allowed asylum claimants from between official border crossings (Roxham Road).

Ending the exemption was something the Conservatives tried to negotiate but were unable to do so in 2010 (A tougher refugee border pact? America said no. – Macleans.Canada (which Conservatives and their supporters tend to conveniently forget).

Not surprisingly, the surprise announcement provoked considerable commentary, ranging from partisan sniping, support, raising concern or expressing outrage:

Selley’s piece:

If we’re going to come out the other side of this virus nightmare relatively unscathed, it is imperative that Canada keeps its eyes on the prize: social distancing, food and medicine supplies, rapidly boosting hospital capacity, rolling out financial aid. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Canada got distracted: Suddenly it was controversial-to-scandalous that the officially illegal but well-trodden path between New York State and Quebec along Roxham Road would remain “open” to asylum-seekers, even as the Canada-U.S. border was otherwise largely “closed.”

“Instead of turning people away, we’re letting them in and paying for their health care and quarantine,” harrumphed Peter MacKay, presumed frontrunner in a Conservative leadership race that becomes more inappropriate with every passing hour. “There are concerns about having enough equipment just for our own citizens. This needs to stop now.” MacKay’s rival Erin O’Toole demanded that we “secure our border immediately.” Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet called on the government to “close all irregular entry points without delay.”

It is entirely understandable that Roxham Road infuriates people. But what exactly are these three men proposing? We could park a couple of tanks there, deploy some of our more hulking soldiers to glower southward. That might scare a few people off. We could build a wall. Unfortunately there are such things as maps, and maps show there are dozens of other potential Roxham Roads between Quebec and New York State and Vermont that border-crossers could illegally use instead — to say nothing of the wee ditch that marks the border in much of the Prairies.

At some point, assuming Canadian courts sign off on the idea, Washington may agree to “take back” those who cross illegally into Canada. Like it or not, that’s a potential long-term solution. But the border is not securable, and has never been secure. The only difference between now and the time when MacKay and O’Toole were cabinet ministers is that instead of a few hundred people a year clambering across the border and claiming asylum, it’s a few hundred people a week — and almost all of them in one place.

Indeed, as absurd a spectacle as Roxham Road presents, it has the benefit of making an insoluble problem — thousands of kilometres of undefended, geographically unthreatening border, and thousands of people hellbent on crossing it — as manageable as possible. Of the 1,100 irregular border-crossers the RCMP dealt with in January this year, just 14 crossed outside Quebec. That’s of even more benefit during a pandemic: We can monitor arrivals for symptoms and insist they self-quarantine just like everyone else — precisely the measures federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair announced Tuesday — and be reasonably sure no one is slipping through the net (such as it is).

The feds certainly could have done better, quicker. As was the case at airports, federal officials do not seem to have been implementing or communicating provincial coronavirus policies to people who needed to hear them. Quebec Premier François Legault strongly recommended 14 days of self-isolation for all foreign arrivals last Wednesday; as of the following Tuesday morning, six days later, according to Customs and Immigration Union president Jean-Pierre Fortin, irregular arrivals were not being told to self-quarantine. That is frustrating to say the least. But assuming the new federal policies are being implemented, they are about the best we can hope to make of this situation.

Basically, we’ve got 99 problems, but Roxham Road ain’t one. It is singularly unhelpful, borderline insulting, for people like O’Toole and MacKay to pretend otherwise.

In other news (and speaking of insulting), it turns out it is in fact possible to distinguish between a truck full of potatoes and a minivan full of senior citizens — contrary to what the federal Liberals had implied on Monday, when their new travel ban inexplicably exempted Americans. “Canadians and Americans cross the border every day to do essential work or for urgent reasons. That will not be impacted,” Trudeau assured us in his Wednesday press conference, but tourism would be verboten. This brings Canada’s coronavirus border policy vis-à-vis Americans roughly in line with its policy for other countries, which was announced Monday.

It is entirely understandable that the question of Americans might take a little longer to hammer out. You want to make double-sure you’re not going to impede essential travel; you do not want to risk enraging the president.

But that doesn’t excuse the standard-issue political spin reporters got from senior government ministers on Monday, when asked about a policy that — as it stood — made no sense whatsoever. We were to believe it was impossible to separate commercial from non-commercial traffic. We were to take solace that no American tourists would come anyway, which is just as true of tourists from everywhere else in the world. It did not inspire much confidence.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu came closest to explaining what was actually going on: “What we do on the American border is going to have to be done thoughtfully and in partnership with our American cousins,” she said at one point — and, later, “we’ll have more to say in the days to come.” That’s all she or any of her colleagues needed to say.

Source: Chris Selley: Politicians need to stop insulting our intelligence if we’re going to survive

Asylum seekers turned away by Canada at the border will get the chance to explain why they feel U.S. is unsafe for refugees

A case to watch given its implications for both asylum seekers and the government:

She knocked on Canada’s door and begged for protection. Instead, she was turned away, handcuffed and jailed — and no one even cared to ask her why she fled her native Burundi.

Then, in a cold cell at Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York, she was handed a flimsy prison jumpsuit and put in solitary confinement while waiting for the results of a mandatory TB test. Behind two panes of glass, she ate, slept and used the toilet in plain sight of the guards and anyone walking by. She was held for 51 days.

More than four years after the “horrific” detention experience she said still haunts her, this asylum seeker and others like her who were turned away by Canada at the Canada-U.S. border will finally have their day in court to explain why they feel the United States is not a safe country for refugees.

Starting Monday in Toronto, the Federal Court of Canada will hear a constitutional challenge to the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, under which both countries consider themselves a safe haven for refugees and agree to block would-be claimants from attempting to enter either country at official border crossings. Arguments will be heard over five days before Justice Ann Marie McDonald.

The Burundian woman, who cannot be named but spoke to the Toronto Star, will be one of the witnesses.

“I preferred death in my country than this treatment like a criminal in the U.S. If I were to die, I should die at home,” she said.

The bilateral pact, implemented in 2004, was originally touted by both Canadian and U.S. officials as a way to curb “asylum shopping.” However, critics have long argued that the U.S. asylum system is cruel and inhumane, especially now under President Donald Trump.

Trump’s anti-migrant policies have spurred an influx of so-called irregular migrants skirting asylum restrictions by crossing outside of Canada’s official ports of entry, where restrictions apply. More than 50,000 asylum seekers have come here that way via the U.S. over the past two years. Once here, after passing initial medical and security screenings, refugees can work and access health care pending a decision on their asylum claims.

In 2007, three advocacy groups — the Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnesty International and the Canadian Council of Churches — took Ottawa to federal court and successfully had the U.S. declared unsafe for refugees, but the decision was later overturned on appeal, largely on the grounds that the groups failed to find a lead individual litigant who was directly impacted by the policy.

After Trump’s election in November 2016 with an anti-immigration agenda, Canadian and American non-governmental organizations and refugee lawyers renewed their effort to challenge the legality of the asylum restrictions.

In 2017, they connected with a Salvadoran woman in the U.S. who sought asylum after she was raped and threatened by the notorious Mara Salvatrucha gang in El Salvador, and agreed to be the lead litigant.

The other litigants include a Syrian family of four and a young Ethiopian woman, all of whom were denied access to asylum in Canada. The three Canadian rights groups also enlisted nine other witnesses, including the Burundian woman, to provide evidence in support of the litigants’ arguments.

“This litigation is significant because this is a way for us to collectively take a position on the human rights abuses and violations against refugees and migrants in North America,” said Janet Dench of the Canadian Council for Refugees.

“Canadians are horrified by what’s been happening in the U.S., with (migrant) children separated from their families, refugees turned away at the Mexico border, the Muslim travel ban and all these measures in the U.S. The litigation is a way of standing up against these policies we don’t and can’t approve of.”

The litigants are expected to present evidence of human rights violations and Canadian Charter breaches in U.S. detention and asylum practices, and highlight the impact of the Safe Third Country Agreement on the most vulnerable refugees fleeing gender-based persecution and gang violence, who are singled out by the Trump administration to be excluded from the U.S. refugee definition.

“Refugee claimants that Canada turns away at our borders are exposed to grave risks of detention and mistreatment in the U.S.,” the litigants claim in their court submissions. “Refugee claimants are being detained indefinitely, in conditions that are nothing short of cruel and unusual, simply for seeking protection.”

In response to the claim, the Canadian government said the Canada-U.S. agreement is no different from similar deals in other refugee-receiving countries in response to rising global migration and forced displacement. Ottawa conducts regular reviews of the pact in order to ensure fair access to asylum, it said in a written response to the litigants’ claims.

“Claimants are returned to a highly developed asylum system that grants protection to large numbers of persons every year, and is subject to both administrative and judicial checks and balances,” it argued. “The U.S.A. complied with its international refugee protection and human rights obligations, notwithstanding debate both in the U.S.A. and internationally with respect to certain aspects of American policies and practices.”

However, the Burundian witness, who is only identified as “Morgan” because her identity is protected by the court, told the Star in an interview her experience in the U.S. tells a different story.

“With their accents, and English not being my first language, I had tremendous difficulty understanding them. They were treating me like I was trying to commit a crime,” recalled Morgan, 28, who said she had been threatened by government militia in Burundi after she and the civilian group she belonged to reported voter registration fraud in the 2015 election. Her cousin, also a member of the group, was shot and killed, she said.

“(American officials) were accusing me of fraud because my visa was for students. But I never intended to lie. All I wanted to do was leave a country where I could die any time,” added Morgan, who said getting a student visa was the only way she could get to the U.S. as a pathway to Canada.

Morgan, who has a degree in business administration back home, said she wanted to flee to French-speaking Canada, but since Ottawa does not have a visa post in Burundi she went to the U.S. consulate instead. She arrived in Pittsburgh in May 2015, before taking an overnight bus to Plattsburgh, N.Y., and from there to the official Canadian border post at Lacolle, Que.

She said she did not know about the asylum restrictions and was denied entry to Canada and detained in the U.S.

In addition to the lack of privacy in detention, Morgan said U.S. officials were “aggressive and rude” and did not help her fill out forms. She said with the one call she was allowed from jail she contacted a friend of a friend in the U.S., who found her a lawyer.

After 51 days behind bars, including 10 days in solitary confinement, she was released and had to couch-surf at the homes of people she barely knew while waiting for an asylum hearing to be scheduled. She said she was unable to support herself because immigration officials held her ID and she couldn’t get a work permit.

More than a year later, Trump won the U.S. presidential election, leaving Morgan to wonder if she would ever get asylum south of the border. When she learned people were bypassing the asylum restrictions at Canadian border crossings, she followed in the footsteps of those “irregular migrants” by crossing at Roxham Rd. in Quebec in August 2017.

However, she is still deemed inadmissible and ineligible to seek asylum in Canada because she had already been denied entry once — in 2015. Meanwhile, Canada cannot deport her to Burundi because of the current humanitarian crisis there.

“I am a victim who needs protection. It doesn’t make sense to call the U.S. a safe country,” she said. “I see how bad the consequences of this agreement are. I still can’t apply for refugee status in Canada because of this. This has to stop.”

Source: Asylum seekers turned away by Canada at the border will get the chance to explain why they feel U.S. is unsafe for refugees

The U.S. might be about to send us these two immigration and refugee problems

Good insight on the next series of headaches:

Of the many files landing on the next government’s desk following this month’s election, at least two may give it an immigration headache. Both come from decisions made by our neighbour to the south: President Donald Trump’s reversal of his country’s post-Reagan refugee policy and his rewriting of “safe third country” rules. Addressing each will involve a difficult balance of humanitarian principles, foreign policy interests and our relationship with the U.S.

The first headache has to do with Canada’s unexpected surpassing of the United States in resettling the world’s greatest number of refugees. Resettlement is the organized transfer of refugees to countries like Canada, relocating them away from countries like Turkey and Lebanon that often host millions of refugees inside their borders. Canada’s newfound leadership has less to do with our natural benevolence, however, than with an unprecedented reduction in American refugee admissions under the Trump administration. In both Canada and the U.S., resettlement has generally enjoyed support from both conservatives and liberals. Since 1980, America has led the world both in resettling refugees and also in successfully encouraging other countries to increase their refugee intake, trends that continued until 2018. In that year, Canada resettled 28,000 refugees, up from an average of 11,000 annually in the years prior to 2015. By contrast, U.S. admissions dropped to a record low of just 23,000 in 2018, down from a 20-year average of 66,000 and a one-year record high of 96,000 in 2016.

Our Canadian moment, even if it is a moment by default, has global implications as the U.S. announces further cuts to refugee admissions in the coming year. Resettlement has acted as a fiscal and social pressure valve for countries hosting millions of refugees, some of them Canadian friends or allies, like Bangladesh and Turkey. It is also a foreign policy and national security instrument, facilitating the recruitment of translators in war zones and embarrassing strategic foes via the admission of citizens fleeing their countries. Canada must weigh these considerations, as well as humanitarian ones, against rising pressure on Canadian funds and a recent drop in public confidence in Canada’s overall immigration system. Nor do we have the same clout as the Americans in helping redistribute the refugee load more fairly throughout the world, especially now that, following the U.S. lead, more countries are reducing their resettlement programs than are expanding them.

In addition to formal resettlement, Canada faces a growing number of asylum claims. Over 170,000 asylum-seekers have sought protection here since the past federal election, 50,000 of whom crossed the border to do so — either “illegally” or “irregularly” depending on who you talk to. Both the Liberals and Conservatives have promised to staunch the flow of border crossings by renegotiating the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement and to return asylum-seekers walking across our southern border to the U.S. for processing. The current agreement applies only to official border crossings, however. A strengthened agreement could apply this arrangement to claimants crossing the border elsewhere, as well. Unfortunately, a strengthened agreement may not be in the cards. In fact, recent changes in U.S. asylum policy may hand the next prime minister a completely suspended agreement, rather than a renegotiated one, which will be bad news both for relations with the U.S. and for an already backed-up Canadian asylum system.

Under a new policy, the Americans will deport asylum-seekers if they passed through another country on their way to the U.S., even if they face a demonstrated risk of torture or persecution in their home country. This violates one of the founding principles of the Safe Third Country Agreement — namely, that countries not return asylum-seekers with credible fears to their home country. It also strengthens the possibility of a successful challenge of the agreement in a current case before the Federal Court of Canada. If the case were to result in the agreement’s suspension, asylum-seekers could make their claims directly at official border crossings without the risk of being turned back to the U.S. This would eliminate the incentive to cross the border to claim protection but it might also invite a correspondingly greater number of claims than before, as prospective claimants would have a more direct route into Canada from the U.S. Canada would not be obligated to approve their claims, but we would have to assess them, further impacting an already backlogged and beleaguered process. It would also risk offending the U.S. by in effect labelling it an unsafe country for refugees. That is not an outcome we want in a time of already tense trade relations.

The potential impact of these changes is hard to overstate. Canada has a proven track record when it comes to processing and integrating refugees. The next federal government may want to leverage our new position as the world’s number one resettlement destination to introduce its own model sponsorship program among like-minded partners on the international stage. It should also consider investing in a more rapid and flexible claim assessment system, one able to respond to large and sometimes unpredictable flows of claimants whatever agreements we do or don’t have with other countries and whatever choice they do or don’t make about re-electing mercurial leaders.

Source: The U.S. might be about to send us these two immigration and refugee problems

Experts say Scheer’s plan to close border loophole ‘doomed to failure’

More political positioning than realistic options for many of the reasons listed:

Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer says that, if elected, he would close the loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) that allows people to make refugee claims in Canada even if they enter the country at an unofficial border crossing.

The Conservatives also aren’t ruling out creating detention camps at the border to house irregular migrants while their claims are being processed.

Asked directly if detention camps were something a Conservative government would create at the border, the Conservatives said the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act provides criteria for detaining asylum seekers. This leaves the option of creating detention camps at the border open.

Scheer’s pledge, made Wednesday at Roxham Road in Quebec, came with few details on exactly how he would close the loophole.

Scheer said his “preferred option” would be to renegotiate the STCA with the U.S., but when pressed on what he would do if U.S. President Donald Trump refused to make a deal, Scheer was light on details.

“There are other options. There are other tools available to the government that we will also be exploring,” Scheer said.

The rising rhetoric around refugees is fuelling many falsehoods about whether these new arrivals pose a threat

One of these options is to declare the entire Canada-U.S. border an official port of entry. This way, people entering the country would be covered by the STCA and — if they do not qualify for an exemption under the agreement — would be sent back to the U.S.

Scheer suggested this is one of the options he’s looking at when he said “we can apply the principles of the Safe Third Country Agreement at other points along the border.”

But migration experts, border security officials and the government have questioned whether this is possible.

Sharry Aiken, a Queen’s University law professor, says any plan to scrap the loophole in the STCA without agreement from the U.S. is “doomed to failure.”

Meanwhile, she says expanding the agreement to cover the entire border is nonsensical because Canada does not have the resources to enforce this type of mass “securitization” of the border, nor is this type of strategy effective.

Aiken points to the U.S.-Mexico border as an example of why increased security does not mean fewer irregular migrants.

“As we can see in relation to what’s going on with respect to America’s efforts in relation to Mexico, they’re an abysmal failure,” she said. “People are still crossing, just at higher costs and at peril to their lives. People are dying all the time.”

A Conservative spokesperson later clarified Scheer’s comments on this issue. The Conservatives said it’s not their policy to expand official port of entry status to the entire border. Instead, they would “pursue a regulatory approach to ensure that the principles of the Safe Third Country Agreement are applied and people are not able to jump the queue.”

Promise would require new legislation

Since spring 2017, there has been a significant influx of asylum seekers in Canada, many of whom entered the country irregularly at unofficial border crossings.

The total number of asylum claims made in Canada in 2018 was 55,000, of which about one-third crossed the border irregularly. This was up from 23,500 total claims two years earlier.

In addition to pledging to close the loophole in the STCA, Scheer said he would move existing judges from the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) closer to the border and widely used unofficial crossings to speed up the processing time for claims and make crossing “illegally” less attractive.

But Aiken and others say Scheer could not do this without first introducing new legislation to change the IRB’s mandate. That’s because the IRB operates independently of the government, and administrative decisions are strictly the authority of the IRB’s chairperson, she said.

Raoul Boulakia, a Toronto-based immigration lawyer, says moving refugee judges to the border would also make it a lot harder for asylum seekers to access a lawyer — a right they are guaranteed under Canada’s Constitution.

Meanwhile, Craig Damian Smith, director of the Global Migration Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, said Scheer’s pledge lacks vital details.

For example, he wonders if Scheer would create detention camps at the border for asylum seekers who enter the country irregularly to be held while their claims are processed.

Scheer claims asylum seekers are ‘skipping the line’

Smith also questions the logistics of the move. The IRB isn’t just made up of judges, he said. There are translators, administrative staff, offices and other things needed in order for claims to be heard and judges to be able to do their jobs.

Smith says holding asylum seekers at the border while their claims are processed — no matter how quickly this is done — presents other problems, such as limiting their ability to work, pay taxes and receive health care.

The Conservative Party, meanwhile, says that if elected, it will amend existing immigration legislation and regulations to make sure IRB judges can be deployed to irregular crossing “hot spots.”

The money needed to relocate IRB judges will come from existing budgets, Conservatives say, adding that there are no plans to change current work-permit rules for people whose asylum claims are allowed to go forward.

Ex-minister under Hussein made refugee claim in Canada

Conservatives point out that immigration detention already takes place in Canada. However, there are currently no immigration detention centres at the border. Instead, would-be refugees who cannot prove their identity, are a flight risk or who could pose a security risk are detained at facilities in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.

Some asylum seekers are also held in long-term detention in provincial jails. According statistics from the Canada Border Services Agency, the average stay in immigration detention in 2017-18 was 14 days.

Under current rules, asylum seekers are allowed to move freely within Canada once their claims are made and so long as they are not detained. Unless laws are changed, Smith said, moving IRB judges to the border would not change this and likely will not speed up the hearing process.

Scheer has repeatedly said closing the STCA loophole would make Canada’s immigration system fairer, more orderly and more compassionate.

Source: Experts say Scheer’s plan to close border loophole ‘doomed to failure”

Canada’s Safe 3rd Country Agreement With The U.S. Draws Criticism

NPR coverage:

Sitting relaxed at the kitchen table of her new home in a comfortable Toronto suburb, Kinda Bazerbashi recalls how differently she felt when her family lived in Houston.

Originally from Syria, she had lived in the United Arab Emirates, then arrived in the United States with her family on temporary visas and applied for asylum in 2012. Through a series of rejections and appeals, she says, they lived their lives in a legal limbo that made it hard to work, plan or travel to see scattered relatives.

“You are just like in jail, in a nice life,” she says. “There are cars. There is supermarket, but you feel, inside, you are in jail.”

By the time President Trump was elected, only a temporary protected status at the discretion of the White House kept her family from being deported back to Syria. Concerned about the president’s positions on immigration, she and her husband, Anas Almoustafa, looked to an alternative.

“From the TV,” says Almoustafa, “they [were] saying a lot of immigrants, they go to Canada.”

In March 2017, the family did what they had seen on TV and what more than 46,000 people have done since the 2016 election. They walked across the border from the U.S. to Canada, away from official entry points, and applied for asylum.

“People are crossing that way because of the safe third country agreement,” says Maureen Silcoff, president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers.

Signed in 2002, the agreement operates from the assumption that both the U.S. and Canada offer protections, so people fleeing their homes should apply for asylum in either country they arrive in first.

That kind of deal has gained renewed attention as the Trump administration presses Mexico and Guatemala to take in asylum-seekers traveling through those countries to the U.S. As America’s policies push more migrants to head across its northern border, Canadians and rights groups have challenged the agreement with the U.S.

Under the accord, people leaving the U.S. cannot apply for asylum in Canada at an official crossing point, or vice versa. Except for a few limited cases, such as if they have close family in Canada, they will be turned back to the U.S.

However, what some call a “loophole” in the agreement allows people to apply for asylum in Canada if they can arrive in the country.

“People feel hopeless about their chances of receiving protection in the United States,” Silcoff says. “That essentially drives them to cross between ports of entry.”

Most have traversed one country road on the border of upstate New York and the province of Quebec. Royal Canadian Mounted Police wait on the other side of this unofficial path to apprehend them.

The total number of migrant interceptions since 2016 still pales in comparison to 100,000 on the U.S.-Mexico border this March alone. Numbers have also trended downward this year over last. But Canadian pollster Shachi Kurl of the Angus Reid Institute says the border situation took on an outsize political importance because Canadians were unaccustomed to these types of arrivals.

“Just literally walking across an undefended border was starting to create a deep sense of unease and concern not just in right-wing voters, but it was really an issue that crossed the political spectrum,” she says.

Canada’s opposition Conservative Party has picked up this theme in its campaign to unseat Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government in federal elections this fall. In a speech in May, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer called the numbers of irregular crossings “almost hard to believe,” protesting that some migrants are able to “exploit loopholes and skip the line.”

Trudeau’s government has made a number of changes in the last two years to try to reduce the number of arrivals. The Canadian government sent representatives abroad to discourage people considering traveling to the border and to temper perceptions of the welcome they would receive.

Trudeau also created a new Cabinet-level border security minister, a position filled by former Toronto police chief Bill Blair. Earlier this year, Blair met with then-U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen about expanding the safe third country agreement so Canada could turn border-crossers back to the U.S. His office declined an interview with NPR but said the two countries have not begun official negotiations.

However, even as the U.S. pushes for similar agreements with Mexico and Guatemala to give migrants heading for the U.S. border asylum in their countries, groups like Amnesty International Canada are urging Canada to withdraw from its asylum deal.

Arguing that the U.S. does not offer equal protections for immigrants, Amnesty Canada director Alex Neve says Canada should allow people to make asylum claims at all official border crossings.

“At a time when refugees and migrants, a very vulnerable group, face this full-out attack on their rights from the U.S. government, Canada shouldn’t be turning its back on them,” Neve tells NPR.

Amnesty has joined with other organizations in a lawsuit to overturn the agreement. Hearings will begin in September.

Silcoff, the attorney, pointed out that U.S. policy changes that have, for example, closed eligibility for asylum to victims of domestic violence, whereas she noted, “They have a good chance because of our laws of receiving protection in Canada.”

Despite their rejection in the U.S., Baserbashi’s family was approved for asylum in Canada last year.

“This is the final step we hope and final move — absolutely it’s [the] final move — because we get approved, thanks God!” she says.

Her family would receive a different reception if they arrived today. The Canadian government passed one more measure this summer, tucked into a large budget bill. The provision bars people from applying for asylum in Canada if they applied previously in the United States or a handful of other countries with which Canada shares biometric data.

Those who have applied elsewhere will now enter an alternative administrative process that Silcoff says offers fewer protections.

A spokesperson for Minister Blair’s office said in an email to NPR that the change was meant to “deter people from making multiple asylum claims in different countries,” but added, “Nobody will be removed without a chance to be heard.”

Source: Canada’s Safe 3rd Country Agreement With The U.S. Draws Criticism

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.


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.