Federal government asks court to keep Canada-U.S. pact to prevent ‘influx of refugee claimants’

Expected:

Canada would face “an influx of refugee claimants” and other “ripple effects” in the absence of a bilateral pact that stops would-be asylum seekers from making a claim here via the U.S., the federal government is warning.

This country will suffer “irreparable harm,” especially amid a global pandemic, if the Federal Court of Appeal does not suspend an earlier lower-court order that struck down the Safe Third Country Agreement, Ottawa argues.

In July, the Federal Court ruled the accord unconstitutional because the United States routinely detained asylum seekers in poor conditions. It gave Ottawa six months — until Jan. 22 — to fix the policy and make sure it complies with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms before the pact becomes invalid.

On Friday, the appeal court will hear a motion by the federal government to extend the deadline until a full appeal can be heard on a later date.

“An influx of refugee claimants will impair the sustainability of the systems that support refugee claimants while their claims are pending. Provincial and municipal governments are struggling to provide housing and social services,” the government says in its submissions.

“This unpredictability is significantly heightened by the global pandemic. Should the reopening of the border between Canada and the USA coincide with the end of the suspension period, a surge of asylum claims at the border is anticipated.”

Critics have argued the U.S. asylum system is cruel and inhumane, especially since President Donald Trump came into power in 2016 on an anti-immigrant agenda, building a wall to shut out illegal immigrants from the south and separating migrant children from their families. These critics said the Canadian government’s request should be dismissed because infringements of refugees’ rights outweigh any alleged public interest in maintaining the status quo.

“While the court gave Parliament six months to remedy the law, the government has squandered that opportunity in favour of an appeal,” said Justin Mohammed of Amnesty International Canada, one of three litigants who launched and won the constitutional challenge.

“We are hopeful that the Federal Court of Appeal will affirm the deadline, so that no refugee protection claimant will be handed over by Canada to face the horrors of U.S. immigration detention past January 2021.”

Under the bilateral agreement, Canada and the U.S. each recognize the other country as a safe place to seek protection. It lets Canada turn back potential refugees who arrive at land ports of entry along the Canada-U.S. border, on the basis that they should pursue their claims in U.S., the country where they first arrived.

In its submissions, the federal government says the agreement, in place since 2004, is in line with international refugee law to ensure claimants have access to a fair asylum process in an “orderly and efficient manner.” There are exemptions and mechanisms in place to avoid returning would-be asylum seekers to risks and danger.

While the U.S. asylum detention system may be unacceptable, it says the Canadian charter does not apply to foreign laws and processes.

“Failure to grant this stay will result in irreparable harm to the public interest, the functioning of the border, the sustainability of the Canadian asylum system and the services and resources that support claimants in Canada,” the government says.

According to Ottawa, all levels of governments are already struggling to provide services to the 56,515 asylum seekers who skirted the safe third country restrictions by crossing “irregularly” into Canada between official land ports of entry from 2017 to 2019.

“An additional influx would further strain those already stretched systems and resources,” the government cautions, adding that the surge will create further “negative ripple effects and backlogs” in the overall immigration and refugee protection scheme.

“There is a strong public interest in affording Canada control of its borders to regulate the flow of persons and goods and to ensure the orderly processing of claims between Canada and the USA.”

However, the respondents, also including the Canadian Council for Refugees and the Canadian Council of Churches, argued that the lower court’s finding is already “tantamount” to a determination that the Canada-U.S. agreement is not in the public interest.

They said the government’s assertions of irreparable harm to the asylum system and services for claimants in Canada are based not on evidence but on a series of speculative claims by officials at the immigration department and Public Safety Canada.

The pandemic has actually made the conditions worse for asylum seekers, they argue. As of Oct. 6, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reported 6,387 confirmed COVID-19 cases in custody, including eight COVID-19-related deaths of detainees.

“The appellants’ suggestion that COVID-19 makes it more difficult to predict ‘asylum intake volumes’ is misleading. While the pandemic is unprecedented, its effect on ‘asylum intake volumes’ is clear: it is dramatically suppressing the number of new refugee claims,” said the respondents in their submissions.

“It is simply harder and more dangerous to travel during the pandemic, and travel to Canada is far more restricted.”

The NDP’s immigration critic Jenny Kwan agrees.

“By appealing the court ruling, the federal Liberals are saying they’d rather let people seeking the safety of asylum here in Canada suffer under Donald Trump’s rules, than stand up for human rights and Canadian values,” said Kwan, who is also the MP for Vancouver East.

“Instead of accepting the court’s ruling and terminating the agreement, they have chosen to double down on turning back asylum seekers to a country that has a policy of separating children from their parents without any way of reuniting them,” she added. “It’s a heartless and shameful act. It’s un-Canadian.”

Source: Federal government asks court to keep Canada-U.S. pact to prevent ‘influx of refugee claimants’

‘They are just buying time’: Lawyers weigh feds’ appeal of judgment suspending Canada-U.S. asylum agreement

From the legal critics:

The Liberal government’s appeal of a recent “damning” Federal Court decision striking down Canada’s 16-year asylum agreement with the United States is disappointing and will likely end up before the Supreme Court, say lawyers and a Senator who once practiced refugee law.

Justice Ann Marie McDonald was “bang-on,” said Independent Senator Mobina Jaffer, when she found the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) violates Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights, which guarantees everyone “the right to life, liberty and security of the person.” In July, Justice McDonald ruled the agreement, which halts people entering Canada at official border crossings because they must instead claim asylum in the U.S., is “over-broad” and the risks of detention and loss of security of the person is “grossly disproportionate” to the administrative benefit of the agreement.

The B.C. Senator said during her 20 years practicing refugee law—before the 16-year-old agreement was brought into force—she worked on many cases where refugees crossed the U.S. border seeking asylum. None in government can be “blind or deaf to what is happening in the United States,” she said, where reports continue of parents being separated from their children and placed in cages, according to Human Rights Watch, which has called the practice a human rights violation.

Sen. Jaffer took issue with the government’s argument that ending the agreement would cause an uptick in claims and put Canada’s refugee system at risk, saying that fear was likely pushing its appeal.

“This is a fairly new thing we are doing [with the agreement]. I find it almost insulting to say we will be overwhelmed with applications… so we don’t need to follow Section 7, that’s how I see it,” she said, highlighting the contradiction in Canada’s experience compared to other nations. Before the pandemic, she travelled to Lebanon and Turkey, which each house millions of refugees, while Canada has seen 58,255 irregular crossings from the U.S. since the beginning of 2017.

“I just think they are buying time to continue the same system because they know they don’t have a strong case,” Sen. Jaffer said.

The evidence presented to Justice McDonald was “damning,” said Jamie Liew, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa, and it was the most evidence presented that Sharry Aiken, an associate law professor at Queen’s University, had seen in 30 years practicing and teaching immigration and refugee law.

“It is curious to me that the government has chosen to ignore all this evidence and instead find that there is still grounds in this agreement to operate as usual… to operate as if the U.S. is acting as an honest partner in meeting its obligations under the Refugee Convention, which it clearly isn’t,” said Prof. Liew.

The appeal means that the STCA is in effect indefinitely now, and a decision is likely years off. The Federal Court of Appeal doesn’t have “a great track record in recognizing the rights of refugees,” explained Prof. Liew, and the applicants would likely appeal an unfavourable ruling.

She and her University of Ottawa colleague Errol Mendes, a professor of constitutional law, both said they think the case is destined for the Supreme Court.

“The issues at stake are so complex, it may require a final court determining some critical issues not only relevant to this case but many other cases that involve the Charter and in particular Section 7,” Prof. Mendes said by email.

Errors in judge’s findings, feds say

The government took a month to appeal the July 22 ruling, and Public Safety Minister Bill Blair (Scarborough Southwest, Ont.) explained in a statement Aug. 21 it was because there are “important legal principles to be determined in this case” and it’s necessary to appeal ”to ensure clarity on the legal framework governing asylum law.”

Asked for more clarity on the legal groundings of that appeal, Mr. Blair’s spokesperson, Craig MacBride, said by email that the government is appealing the ruling because it believes there are errors in some of the key findings of fact and law.

“The decision suggests all asylum claimants who are ineligible under the Safe Third Country Agreement and turned back to the U.S. are automatically detained as a penalty,” he said. “This is not the case. The U.S. remains a party to the UN Refugee Convention.”

Prof. Mendes said he expects the government to attack a “crucial” part of the court decision, in which Justice McDonald said that with the agreement, the risks of detention and loss of security of the person “are grossly disproportional to the administrative benefits of the STCA,” and that the impact on a refugee of being found ineligible is “out of sync” with the objective of the legislation, and responsibility sharing between the countries “cannot be positively balanced against imprisonment or the deleterious effects of cruel and unusual detention conditions,” including solitary confinement.

The federal government may attack Justice McDonald’s assessment that the STCA’s main objective is in fact an administrative benefit of sharing responsibility for refugees, he suggested.

“Instead, they will claim that getting rid of it will destabilize the entire present refugee system in Canada, given that the present system with the STCA is already backlogged with those that are not caught by the STCA,” said Prof. Mendes, though he thinks this defence likely would not succeed. “The Court has said on the many cases that it would be undermining the Charter if all that [the] government had to do to violate Charter rights is to proclaim the administrative burdens that come from living up to them.”

Prof. Liew said she hopes the Supreme Court takes up the issue, especially the question of an “alternative remedy,” which she said is often a legal argument the government invokes when it comes to Charter challenges. In this case, she said the government argues there are other avenues open to refugee claimants, when in reality most aren’t aware of their rights and when turned back to the U.S. are immediately detained.

“Once a Charter right is infringed… can it be affected by what the government calls alternative remedies? I think that’s where I anticipate their argument will rest,” she said. “If you want to look at taking Charter right infringements seriously, we should be really looking at how it operates on the ground.”

The only Charter argument Prof. Mendes could imagine the government using is a point the government has already asserted: that the U.S. has a fair detention review system, which can allow for due process and release from detention.

The experience of one of the applicants in the case, Nedira Mustefa, directly challenged that claim. She was detained in the U.S. after trying to enter Canada and spent a week in solitary confinement, which Justice McDonald said meets the test that a foreign law would “shock the conscience.”

“So the government will argue theoretical fair detention review possibilities [versus] the ‘Trumpian era’ reality of harsh treatment of refugees and increased risk of deportation to countries where life, liberty, and security of the person is endangered,” said Prof. Mendes

“Here, the appeals court will have to factor into what I call real-time realities of the life of refugees in Trump’s America versus the theoretical due process safeguards under the STCA.”

That Justice McDonald declared the STCA invalid based on the treatment of a couple refugees could also be contested by the government, he added, but the Supreme Court has said in the past—in rulings on assisted dying or anti-prostitution laws—that if a process violates the Section 7 rights of even a few people, or a small number disproportionately, the law can still be struck down, he noted.

Political issues likely at play

Prof. Aiken called Mr. Blair’s rationale that legal principles are in play a “specious” argument, seeing the choice to appeal instead as a “very transparent commitment” to a Liberal political agenda to not only maintain, but extend, the STCA.

“It is a highly charged political issue and in my view it’s almost been served up as a kind of marker or proxy for a wider political discourse on refugees and border security in a way that completely distorts the impact and implications of this agreement,” she said.

“Every day it continues in effect is another day of refugee rights being violated.”

When the agreement was brought in following 9/11, Prof. Liew said it was in part to address backlogs at the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. There are more innovative ways to expedite that process and address policy problems than putting people at risk of returning to places where they could endure persecution or death, she said.

“I’m very perplexed, if we’re concerned about that policy rationale, why it has to be done with a heavy-handed manner in a way that’s totally ignorant to the dire situations that refugee claimants face in the U.S.,” she said, who stressed this is not a “temporary problem” unique to Trump’s America.

The Conservative Party supports the government’s decision to appeal, said immigration critic and MP Peter Kent (Thornhill, Ont.), but he expressed surprise it took so long. He said there are a number of “inconsistencies” in the ruling, which he also expects will ultimately make its way to the Supreme Court.

There are clearly issues with the agreement, said Mr. Kent, but those mainly lie in the “loophole” that those who don’t cross at official ports of entry don’t fall under the agreement.

Justice McDonald’s ruling is based on the specific experiences of three claimants, that he said are “exceptions to the broader context” of the agreement, which he called part of a “fair and compassionate and orderly” immigration system.

“There is the issue of those in the United States who fear and may have legitimate concerns that if they’re discovered in the United States, they will experience improper treatment, but the broader intent of the Safe Third Country Agreement addresses those like the overwhelming majority of illegal border crossers,” who he said had the economic means and visas to pass through the U.S. and enter the border improperly.

NDP MP Jenny Kwan (Vancouver East, B.C.), her party’s immigration critic, called the government’s decision “horrendous” and its rationale for appeal “nonsense.”

She said she sees it as the Liberals catering to a Conservative-leaning perspective on borders and a “backdoor way” to close them.

“Has our federal government completely set aside the need for Canada to do the right thing, abide by our international obligations, and to be on the right side of history? Is their politics and the gamesmanship in politics more important than the lives of people facing persecution?”

Source: ‘They are just buying time’: Lawyers weigh feds’ appeal of judgment suspending Canada-U.S. asylum agreement

Liberals appealing ruling striking down Canada-U.S. asylum agreement

Not surprising given that the ruling reflected in part the particular circumstances of asylum seekers that were at the heart of the case:

The Liberal government is appealing last month’s Federal Court decision that ruled the Safe Third Country Agreement — Canada’s asylum agreement with the United States — infringes upon the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In a decision released July 22, Justice Ann Marie McDonald said the agreement — which stops people from entering either Canada or the U.S. at official Canada-U.S. border crossings and asking for asylum — violates the section of the Charter guaranteeing “the right to life, liberty and security of the person.”

McDonald suspended her invalid ruling for six months to allow Parliament to respond.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said in a statement Friday the government filed an appeal today because they believe there are factual and legal errors in some of the court’s key findings.

“There are important legal principles to be determined in this case, and it is the responsibility of the government of Canada to appeal to ensure clarity on the legal framework governing asylum law,” reads the statement.

“Canada has a long and proud tradition of providing protection to those who need it most by offering refuge to the world’s most vulnerable people, and the government of Canada remains firmly committed to upholding a compassionate, fair and orderly refugee protection system. The STCA remains a comprehensive vehicle to help accomplish that, based on the principle that people should claim asylum in the first safe country in which they arrive.”

The 16-year-old agreement, which remains in effect, recognizes both countries as “safe” countries for migrants and states that refugee claimants are required to request refugee protection in the first country they arrive in — meaning Canadian border officials would send back to the U.S. any would-be refugee claimants arriving at an official border crossing into Canada.

The Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnesty International, the Canadian Council of Churches and a number of individual litigants brought the original case forward and argued that by returning ineligible refugee claimants to the U.S., Canada exposes them to risks — including detention and eventual deportation to countries where they could face harm.

Conservative MP and immigration critic Peter Kent immediately issued a statement supporting the appeal.

“While we are pleased the government has decided to appeal this ruling, Canadians’ confidence in the immigration system has been rocked by years of Justin Trudeau’s failure to address these concerns, and his failure to restore integrity and compassion to the immigration process,” he said in a statement.But the NDP’s critic Jenny Kwan called the move the a “heartless and shameful act.”

“By appealing this ruling, the federal Liberals are saying they’d rather let people seeking the safety of asylum here in Canada suffer under Donald Trump’s rules, than stand up for human rights and Canadian values,” she wrote in a statement Friday afternoon.

“It’s un-Canadian.”

Source: Liberals appealing ruling striking down Canada-U.S. asylum agreement

Canadian court correctly finds the U.S. is unsafe for refugees

Sean Rehaag and Sharry Aiken on the court decision. To date, haven’t seen any media commentary from those more to the right on the court decision and the CPC Immigration Critic Peter Kent has also been silent. Sharp contrast to all the earlier commentary and criticism:

This week, Canada’s Federal Court ruled that the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) is unconstitutional.

Under the agreement, refugee claimants entering Canada at land ports-of-entry can be returned directly to the United States without being allowed to make a refugee claim in Canada. The agreement was a quid pro quo for concessions offered to the U.S. after 9/11, including a “smart border” accord, enhanced information-sharing and joint border enforcement.

Advocates for refugees have long argued that the STCA violates international refugee law and Canadian constitutional law. Differences between the refugee determination systems in Canada and the U.S., as well as differences in the rights enjoyed by refugee claimants in both countries, mean that some people who would be recognized as refugees in Canada would be denied protection south of the border.

In other words, the U.S. is not “safe” for at least some refugees.

Trump’s election worsened situation

These arguments took on an especially urgent tone after Donald Trump’s election as American president in November 2016.

The Trump administration has implemented many racist, xenophobic and anti-refugee policies to dissuade people from seeking asylum in the U.S. For example: Harsh detention practices (including detention of young children), family separation, restrictions on the refugee definition (such as excluding people facing gender-based violence), militarization of the border and of course attempting to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

This prompted a growing chorus of voices — from law professors to human rights organizations and political parties — to call on Canada to suspend or withdraw from the STCA.

Their arguments are persuasive. How can a country be considered safe for refugees if it locks up refugee kids in cages or refuses refugee protection to women facing gender-based violence?

Closing the loophole

Unfortunately, these voices have been ignored. Instead, worried about critiques from the right about weakness on border control, the federal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau contemplated trying to get the U.S. to extend the agreement to the entire border — not just official land ports of entry.

The U.S., however, has little incentive to expand the agreement, which would block even more asylum-seekers from leaving the United States for Canada, and there has been little movement on this front.

This inaction left the matter to the courts. Lawyers for refugee and human rights organizations, as well as refugee claimants, went to Federal Court, arguing that the STCA is unconstitutional.

Federal Court Justice Ann Marie McDonald agreed with them.

Her decision focused narrowly on what happens to refugee claimants who are turned away under the STCA.

And what happens is atrocious. Refugee claimants are handed over to American officials who detain them for weeks. Conditions of detention are inhumane. Solitary confinement is common. Access to lawyers is restricted, which makes it harder to secure refugee protection.

Worse still, these are intentional policies aimed at making the experience of seeking asylum in the U.S. so traumatic that others will be discouraged from making the same journey.

As Justice McDonald held:

“The evidence clearly demonstrates that those returned to the U.S. by Canadian officials are detained as a penalty …. penalization of the simple act of making a refugee claim is not in keeping with the spirit or the intention of the STCA or the foundational conventions upon which it was built.”

No safety for refugees

In other words, U.S. immigration detention practices violate international refugee law and undermine the basic premise of the STCA that both countries are safe for refugees.

So there we have it. A Canadian court has determined that American detention practices are “grossly disproportionate” and “shock the conscience,” and that Canada cannot be complicit by sending refugee claimants to the U.S. to face these practices without violating constitutional rights to life, liberty and security of the person.

The question now is what comes next.

The Federal Court suspended its declaration of constitutional invalidity for six months to allow Canadian Parliament to respond.

The government could appeal the decision. If that happens, the STCA will be tangled up in the courts for years — during which time more asylum-seekers like Nedira Mustefa, one of the applicants in the case, will find themselves in solitary confinement in U.S. detention centres. Mustefa told the court she felt “scared, alone and confused,” with no sense of when she would be released, during her time in American detention.

Alternatively, the Canadian government can send a clear signal that it cares about constitutional and international law, heed Justice McDonald’s findings and take steps to immediately suspend the STCA.

The detention practices that she focuses on in her decision are only one among many ways in which the U.S. has attacked refugee rights. These attacks are mounting. The Trump administration recently proposed reforms that would gut what remains of the American asylum system. Every day that the STCA remains in effect, Canada continues to be complicit in these attacks.

Enough is enough. The STCA must be suspended.

Source: Canadian court correctly finds the U.S. is unsafe for refugees

‘Canada cannot turn a blind eye’: Federal court says Safe Third Country Agreement with U.S. violates charter

The big news this week, with the question will the government accept or appeal this decision given that defending the STCA with the Trump administration would be different under a possible Biden administration:

In a ruling that lambastes the American government’s detention of asylum-seekers and chastises Canadian officials as complicit, this country’s Federal Court has ruled the so-called Safe Third Country Agreement is unconstitutional.

The ruling is being hailed as a major victory for refugee rights — and drawing calls from advocates for Ottawa to immediately and unilaterally suspend the agreement with the United States.

“Security of the person encompasses freedom from the threat of physical punishment or suffering,” Justice Ann Marie McDonald wrote in her 62-page decision, which was released Wednesday.

“The accounts of the detainees (in the U.S.) demonstrate both physical and psychological suffering because of detention, and a real risk that they will not be able to assert asylum claims.”

Under the bilateral pact, Canada and the U.S. each recognize the other country as a safe place to seek protection.

That means Canada can turn back potential refugees who arrive at land ports of entry along the Canada-U.S. border on the basis they should pursue their claims in the States, the country where they first arrived.

The agreement, which took effect in 2004, was originally touted by officials in both countries as a way to curb “asylum shopping.” However, critics have long argued that the U.S. asylum system is cruel and inhumane — critiques that have grown louder and more pronounced during the Trump administration.

In its judgment, the court found it unconstitutional to ban would-be claimants from attempting to enter either country at official border crossings. The court gave Ottawa six months to respond and fix the policy to make sure it complies with the Canadian charter before declaring the accord invalid.

“The evidence demonstrates that the immediate consequence to ineligible STCA claimants is that they will be imprisoned solely for having attempted to make a refugee claim in Canada,” McDonald said. “The ‘sharing of responsibility’ objective of the STCA should entail some guarantee of access to a fair refugee process.”

Refugee advocates urged the Liberal government to move quickly to suspend the agreement, which the terms allow.

“Refugee claimants turned away at the Canada-U.S. border face grave human rights violations in the United States, notably atrocious conditions in immigration detention,” said Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada, one of the parties.

“Under no circumstances should the government consider appealing this ruling. It is time to stop pretending that all is right when it comes to protecting the rights of refugees in the U.S. Not one more refugee claimant should be turned away at the Canada-U.S. border.”

Mary-Liz Power, spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, would not say whether the government planned to appeal the court decision.

“We are aware of the Federal Court’s decision and are currently reviewing it. Although the Federal Court has made its ruling, that decision does not come in effect until January 22, 2021. The Safe Third Country Agreement remains in effect,” Power said in an email.

U.S. President Donald 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 have applied.

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.

“When the Trump administration attempted to impose their travel ban in January 2017, it was obvious that the Liberal government could no longer count on the United States to live up to its international and humanitarian obligations,” said NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan.

“Contrary to what Minister Blair has said in the past, this (ruling) proves that refugees are not simply ‘asylum shopping.’”

After Trump’s election in November 2016 with an anti-immigration agenda, Canadian and U.S. non-governmental organizations and refugee lawyers started 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 included 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, including the Canadian Council for Refugees and the Canadian Council of Churches, also enlisted nine other witnesses

During the hearing in November, the court reviewed evidence that showed detainees in the U.S. had no access to phone calls and legal counsel or translators; have been lost due to transfers between detention centres; and sometimes were held in solitary confinement.

“The court could hardly fail to be moved by the testimonies of the appalling experiences of people in the U.S. immigration detention system, after Canada closed the doors on them,” said Dorota Blumczynska, president of the Canadian Council for Refugees.

“Their experiences show us and convinced the court that the U.S. cannot be considered a safe country for refugees.”

The court decision also called out Canadian officials’ responsibility.

“Canada cannot turn a blind eye to the consequences … in its efforts to adhere to the STCA. The evidence clearly demonstrates that those returned to the U.S. by Canadian officials are detained as a penalty,” Justice McDonald wrote.

Queen’s University immigration law professor Sharry Aiken said it’s “reasonable” to expect an influx of refugee claimants at official ports of entry from south of border in light of the ruling, though it may not happen immediately due to the COVID-19 border restrictions.

“The court ruling itself does not address the current (pandemic) context but the implications of the ruling signal that Canada should step up immediately to protect the rights of claimants approaching Canada for asylum,” Aiken said.

“Canada has proven itself more than capable of adequately addressing spikes in the numbers of asylum seekers. Constitutional rights are not about the numbers, in any event.”

Source: https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2020/07/22/canadian-court-says-safe-third-country-agreement-with-us-violates-charter.html

Ontario overestimated cost of services to irregular border crossers, AG finds

In contrast to Quebec, which estimated correctly:

Ontario significantly overstated the costs of providing services to asylum seekers coming into Canada from the United States, the province’s auditor general said Wednesday.

In a special report, Bonnie Lysyk said the $200 million estimate given by the governing Progressive Conservatives in 2018 represented the cost of providing services to all refugee claimants, not just so-called “irregular” border crossers.

She said the minister of social services at the time, Lisa MacLeod, was given inaccurate information by civil servants.

“The accuracy of information provided by the ministry to the minister for the public announcement was far off the mark,” Lysyk said in a statement Wednesday.

“Senior government officials need to ensure the accuracy of the information provided to government for public announcements and decision-making.”

MacLeod had formally requested $200 million from Ottawa to cover costs she said were incurred by the province and its municipalities as a result of an influx of asylum seekers arriving from the U.S.

Lysyk said her office found the Ontario government spent roughly $81 million on services for irregular asylum seekers between April 1, 2017 — when the federal government first started tracking their arrival — and July 31, 2018.

More costs were incurred until the border was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lysyk said.

She recommended Ontario seek an immigration agreement with the federal government that includes compensation for providing services to refugee claimants, including irregular border crossers.

The current deal does not, and the federal government has given $15.6 million in compensation to Toronto, Ottawa and Peel Region for their expenses during the April 2017 to August 2018 period, she said.

Quebec, which has a separate cost-sharing agreement with Ottawa, incurred $300 million in costs and has received $286 million in compensation, Lysyk said.

When asked about the report Wednesday, Premier Doug Ford said his government did not intentionally mislead the public and was simply relying on the information provided.

Ford blamed the federal government for leaving the province to shoulder the costs of what he called “illegal immigration,” and suggested the auditor general should do another report to examine more recent expenses related to the issue.

“Where’s the money? We need the money,” the premier said. “Every single day, it’s costing us more and more and more.”

Opposition legislators criticized the government for using inflated numbers to make policy decisions.

“The auditor general’s report makes clear that the claims Doug Ford and Lisa MacLeod made about the cost of accommodating asylum seekers in Ontario were pure fiction,” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said in a statement.

“Shame on them for making stuff up to fan the flames of division instead of uniting us like they should have been.”

Liberal House Leader John Fraser said the Ford government has a record of “continually overstating, overstepping, and exaggerating.”

Ford previously came under fire for saying his government inherited a $15 billion deficit from the Liberals, and later revising that number down by about half, to $7.4 billion.

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said the debate over the costs of services for irregular border crossers took place at a time when many governments were “playing politics with immigration.”

“The government inflated this number … to provide cover for what in this case is a divisive political agenda, which I think was to question immigration policy in this country. And I think it’s wrong,” he said.

Canada’s Safe Third Country agreement with the U.S. says asylum seekers are required to make their claims in the first “safe” country where they arrive, which means those who try to enter Canada at an official land crossing are sent back to make their claim in the U.S.

The agreement does not cover those who come in through unofficial crossings, known as “irregular” asylum seekers.

The auditor says 36 per cent of refugee claimants in Ontario in recent years entered at unofficial points.

Federal data show 26,415 asylum claims were filed in Ontario in 2019, which could include some filed by irregular border crossers.

The province provides services such as temporary housing, settlement services and language training.

Source: Ontario overestimated cost of services to irregular border crossers, AG finds

Some refugee claimants can now enter Canada

Good overview of the limited exceptions:

Some refugee claimants from the United States can once again enter Canada.

The Canada Border Services Agency announced Wednesday that claimants eligible for exemptions under the Safe Third Party Agreement between Canada and the U.S. can enter the country through official land border crossings. Those entering through irregular border crossings will still be returned to the U.S.

“People who arrive irregularly between border crossings are still prohibited from entering Canada to make a refugee claim,” the federal agency said on Twitter, in French.

“As of today, claimants can enter the country at designated land ports of entry only if they are among the few who are eligible for exemptions under the Safe Third Party Agreement.”

Those exempted from the agreement include claimants with family in Canada, unaccompanied minors or people who already have permits, like a student visa. They will also be subject to the mandatory 14-day quarantine for new arrivals.

Last month, in announcing the closure of the Canada’s border with the United States, as part of efforts to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government said it would return all refugee claimants coming into the country via irregular crossings back to the U.S. The Americans also said they would do the same for those entering their country from Canada.

At Monday’s sitting of the House of Commons, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, answering a question from Conservative MP Joël Godin, said that at least 10 people had made irregular crossing since the ban. They were returned to the United States, Blair confirmed.

News of the change to allow some refugee claimants to enter Canada through designated ports of entry first came on Wednesday when Jean-Pierre Fortin, president of the Customs and Immigration Union, gave radio interviews.

Fortin called the change a “surprise” move that was communicated to his members at the end of the day Tuesday.

“We are in a state of crisis,” Fortin said. “We think it is too early to open the border.”

He added that the Canadian Border Services Agency has reserved a nearby hotel, with about 50 rooms, where refugee claimants who take advantage of this new opening would have to go into quarantine for 14 days before the claims could be processed.

Fortin also expressed concerns that Customs officers would need protective equipment and safeguards to deal with people who may have the COVID-19 virus and he said the waiting room for people coming through the border crossing is not large, making social distancing difficult.

In Ottawa, when he was asked about the change at his daily pandemic briefing, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said as far as he knows the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement is still in force. He then referred the question to Minister Blair.

CBSA media relations staff disclosed the Order in Council to reporters seeking more information. The new rules remain in effect until May 21, the date the Canada-U.S. border is set to reopen.

The change was requested by Health Canada, according to a CBSA official, who said the intent is to “minimize the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in Canada.” The official confirmed that foreign nationals are still prohibited from entering Canada from the United States if they have “COVID-19 or have signs and symptoms of COVID-19” or officials have “reasonable grounds to suspect they have such signs and symptoms.”

Refugee rights advocates have called on the government to reopen the border to all asylum seekers.

Janet Dench, the Canadian Council of Refugees, said the ban is “wrong and unnecessary.”

Still, she said changing the rules to allow refugee claimants who have family members already in Canada to enter represents “a step in the right direction.”

“I doesn’t solve the problem, though,” Dench said, calling on the government to respect the rights of asylum seekers to come to Canada.

Source: Some refugee claimants can now enter Canada

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]

Source: ow.ly/tlVs30qsz3V

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.

Source: https://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/the-dark-side-of-canadas-coronavirus-response/