US President Joe Biden’s visit to Ottawa helped the Trudeau government address one of its biggest political blights on the government’s immigration file – the closing of Roxham Road.
During the first stage of the U.S. president’s first visit to Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed Canadian law enforcement authorities will now reject migrants at illegal crossings, including the road intersecting Quebec and New York State, which led to 40,000 migrants jumping into Canada last year.
Roxham Road, if allowed to continue, would have been a huge election issue for the Trudeau Liberals, especially since Quebec Premier Francois Legault has stated on many occasions that Quebec cannot afford the crossing’s burden financially or socially.
The deal would apply the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) across the entire Canada-United States border. It would close a loophole which allowed migrants arriving in Canada from the United States between official ports of entry to make asylum claims. Canadian authorities patrolling the border are now able to turn asylum seekers back to the United States.
The agreement, which came into force in 2004, stipulated that asylum seekers must make their claims in the first safe country they reach.
The deal also allows American authorities to turn back asylum seekers travelling to the United States from Canada.
“To address irregular migration, we are expanding the Safe Third Country Agreement to apply not only at designated ports of entry, but across the entire land border, including internal waterways, ensuring fairness and more orderly migration between our two countries,” said a release the PMO.
In other words, the deal closes a loophole which allowed migrants to make asylum claims between ports of entry thereby ending the jumping of the queue.
Opposition parties and the Quebec government have pressured the Trudeau government on Roxham Road. Both Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre and Quebec Premier Legault have called for the irregular border crossing’s closure following a spike in asylum seekers this year.
The loophole became a source of tension between Canada and the United States due to a spike in migrants arriving in Canada via Roxham Road. The road, about 50 km south of Montreal, runs from Quebec to New York State. Of 39,540 asylum seekers arriving in Canada illegally by land last year, 39,171 came to Quebec, according to government data.
As part of the deal, Canada has agreed to accept 15,000 migrants from the Western Hemisphere through official channels over the next year.
Amnesty International, a human rights advocacy group, condemned the changes to the STCA.
“Closing Roxham Road by extending the Safe Third Country Agreement is an affront to the rights of refugee claimants seeking safety in Canada,” Ketty Nivyabandi, secretary general of Amnesty International in Canada, said in a media statement.
“People fleeing their home countries, and then risking their lives by crossing irregularly into Canada, would not take such drastic steps if the United States’ immigration and refugee-protection system could be counted on to respect migrants’ rights.”
Nivyabandi said it’s “unconscionable” that the government would make the change while the Supreme Court is reviewing the STCA.
Biden and Trudeau said in a joint statement that they anticipate the agreement “will deter irregular migration at our shared border.”
Nivyabandi disagreed, saying the change will only push migrants to attempt to cross at more remote and dangerous locations along the border, or force them to rely on smugglers.
Meanwhile, asylum seekers warned by police they could be sent back to the United States as of midnight Saturday continued to walk into Canada through the unofficial border crossing at Roxham Road.