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covid19 Opinion stories

Government relaxes border closures for refugee claims amid COVID-19 pandemic

The border is closed to you and me but a refugee claimant already safe in the U.S. can cross into Canada.

Revelations this week that the federal government is relaxing stringent closures of the border, especially during the pandemic restrictions are stunning. 

However, last week the Trudeau government eased restrictions by allowing refugee claims to be made at legal Ports of Entry (POE) if they meet restrictions set by the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) signed between the U.S. and Canada in 2004. 

These exceptions include unaccompanied minors, persons facing the death penalty in the US and any other third country or – and this is the kicker – for persons seeking to join a family member already in Canada. 

According to a source close to front line CBSA officers, this includes family members who themselves are awaiting the adjudication of a refugee claim even if they entered the country illegally via a crossing between Ports of Entry like Roxham Road. 

The number of claims in the past couple of years through the Roxham Road illegal entry point is believed to be more than 50,000 cases. 

With the relaxation of the border closure, a refugee claimant who would otherwise be ineligible under the STCA may now make a refugee claim by simply saying they wanted to join their brother in Canada. CBSA must now allow them in, quarantine them for a period of 14 days and then, well – we really don’t know.

Presumably, they are released into the population of Canada and their refugee claim begins where they become eligible for welfare, healthcare, housing and all the myriad privileges the government provides. 

What True North has also been told is if an incipient “irregular immigrant” is intercepted at the border the RCMP will direct them to the nearest POE where they will then be dealt with by the CBSA.

We already know that human traffickers move migrants to the border points and give them instructions on what to say to circumvent Canadian law and to take advantage of our generous refugee system. Therefore, all they need to do is change their story from what was used at the illegal crossings and add to it that they are joining a family member and presto, they are in and the money taps are turned on. 

Scott Newark, a former Crown Counsel and security advisor to the Ontario government post 9-11 and special security advisor to Stockwell Day when he was Public Safety Minister said this on the subject: “These people coming in from the U.S. aren’t Americans, but people transiting the U.S. who decided they’d rather be a refugee in Canada because we have better healthcare and it’s easier to get welfare. Well, that’s not seeking protection, that’s immigration and they should get in line with everyone else.” 

Hard to argue with that. But for the government of Justin Trudeau, that’s not the case. 

Trudeau reluctantly closed the border after waiting until the coronavirus pandemic was already well underway. And now, just a few weeks later, he has reactivated the exemptions to the STCA to allow refugee claims. Meanwhile, Canadian citizens aren’t able to cross the border. 

True North reached out to the CBSA for comment on the morning of April 22. They said they’d get back to us which they did the following day. This was their justification: “Under Order in Council 11, which came into force April 22, 2020, only foreign nationals who meet one of the exceptions (e.g., family member, stateless habitual resident of the U.S., unaccompanied minor) under the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA), that came into place in 2004, can seek asylum at an official land port of entry (POE).”

This makes no sense at all. The border is closed to you and me, but a refugee claimant already safe in the U.S. can come to a POE and claim refugee status ostensibly to join a family member. 

And we just accept that at face value.

The mind boggles.

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