RCMP officers assured activists that Canada would continue to accept illegal border crossers in the event of a border closure, a pro-asylum group says.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair confirmed at a Tuesday press conference that illegal border crossers would still be allowed into Canada, though the Hemmingford, Que.-based Bridges Not Borders said it was advised of this last week by the RCMP.

The group posted an advisory on its website on Mar. 13 relaying the RCMP’s assurances.

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Canadian government is considering closing the border between Canada and the US. However, the RCMP police (sic) have confirmed with us today that, if the border is closed, people seeking asylum will still be able to cross at Roxham Road,” the advisory said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau imposed a ban on non-resident foreign nationals entering Canada Mar. 16, carving out an exemption for US citizens.

Bridges Not Borders says its advance knowledge came from its “good working relationship” with the RCMP.

“Last week we asked them, because it was discussed in the press that the government was considering closing the border,” coordinating committee member Wendy Ayotte said. “We were informed that it would remain open. That was quite emphatic on their part, and that gave us the message that this was a high-level decision.”

Ayotte said she supports the RCMP’s approach, suggesting that not allowing people to cross illegally at Roxham Rd. could cause a greater spread of COVID-19.

“If people were to enter Canada in that way, it would use up RCMP resources and if they were able to enter Canada undetected they could spread COVID-19,” Ayotte said.

Bridges Not Borders started operating in 2017 by welcoming illegal border crossers into Canada. The group provides care packages to illegal migrants and counsels them on how to circumvent the Safe Third Country Agreement, which aims to prohibit people in the United States from claiming asylum in Canada.

Government figures reveal nearly 55,000 people have entered Canada illegally since Feb. 2017, the bulk of which came in at Roxham Rd.

Blair said Tuesday that illegal border crossers will be subjected to additional medical screening and, when necessary, housed in quarantine.

“Because of the need for the 14-day isolation, we are now making separate arrangements for those individuals to be placed in appropriate shelters in order to accommodate the requirement for the period of isolation,” said Blair.

Ayotte said her team is hearing on the ground that this process has already been implemented.

The RCMP did not respond to a request for comment from True North.

Despite the pandemic and government measures, Ayotte said volunteers with her group continue to greet asylum claimants at the border, though she noted it’s entirely up to them.

“One of the very important things that I think needs stressing is that [the RCMP] are very concerned that if they shut down Roxham Road, imagine what would happen: there would be an increase of people trying to cross into Canada through the woods or other unsafe terrain,” said Ayotte.

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