Asylum seeker deal between U.S. and Canada won’t stop drama at border, advocates say
RCMP officers approach a woman entering Canada via Roxham road on the Canada/US border in Hemmingford, Que., Saturday, March 25, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
By Marisela Amador in Plattsburgh
About a dozen asylum seekers hoping to start a new life in Canada saw their plans hit a snag on Saturday afternoon when they learned an unofficial crossing between the Canadian and U.S. border no longer offered the safe passage they’d come to expect.
An expansion to the 2004 treaty known as the Safe Third Country Agreement took effect while they were en route to the Roxham Road crossing from New York to Quebec, making it illegal to claim refugee status at the entry point where thousands had previously succeeded.
The new rules kicked in Saturday morning, stunning newcomers as they disembarked from a bus that brought them to Plattsburgh, N.Y. only to learn of the change from assembled media.
“Wow,” said a man from Colombia with a look of disbelief on his face. He did not give his name but said in Spanish that he was travelling with his wife and young son. A few minutes later, he approached The Canadian Press and asked if Roxham Road was truly closed.
Up until Friday, lines of taxis would be stationed at the bus stop waiting to carry asylum seekers to Roxham Road. On Saturday afternoon, only one van showed up.
The driver, who declined to provide his name, ferried two Colombian families to the crossing, only shrugging when asked if he knew his passengers risked possible arrest once they reached their destination.
A sign emblazoned with such warnings for illegal asylum seekers now looms over the Roxham Road crossing. But experts who work directly with those seeking refugee status in Canada say they doubt such cautions, and the new migration rules they’re intended to uphold, will do much to deter cross-border traffic.
Restricting access to the border and preventing migrants from accessing a safe pathway into the country will only incentivize bad-faith actors, said Abdulla Daoud, executive director of Montreal-based The Refugee Centre.
“This type of decision-making … in the past, has led to the creation of many human traffickers and smuggling rings,” Daoud said in an interview on Friday. “Canada never really had to deal with that too much. But now I think we’re going to see the numbers increase because these individuals are not going to go away.”
The new rules were announced on Friday during U.S. President Joe Biden’s trip to Ottawa.
It was described in U.S. documents as a “supplement” to the Safe Third Country Agreement. That treaty prevents people in either Canada or the United States from crossing the border and making a refugee claim in either country — but until now, it only covered official points of entry.
The agreement now applies along the nearly 9,000-kilometre border, including at unofficial crossings like Roxham Road.
All was quiet there on Saturday, with mostly members of the media on-hand awaiting the arrival of new would-be asylum seekers.
The sign installed on Friday and unveiled at midnight when the new agreement took effect now warns newcomers that it is illegal to enter Canada through Roxham Road.
“You will be arrested and may be returned to the United States. Refugee claimants must request protection in the first safe country they arrive in,” it reads.
The executive director of Home of the World, a shelter for asylum seekers and migrants in Montreal, said it is possible that would-be refugees determined to cross into Canada may end up dying by taking dangerous routes into the country.
“It’s very possible that people will try to cross over using more hidden places and get stuck in the woods for two weeks and end up losing their lives,” Eva Gracia-Turgeon said in an interview. “We are talking about not only individuals but also families and pregnant women and young children who are going to cross. So potentially, there will be more drama at the border.”
One American official also voiced concern about the impact the new deal would have on residents on the U.S. side of the border.
“This becomes a local issue when you still have an influx of people coming here,” said Billy Jones, an assembly member in the New York state legislature. “If they are denied entry, where are they going? What are they doing? As well as the humanitarian part of it. We don’t want people stranded along the border, oftentimes not prepared for the conditions that we have out here.”
The expanded Safe Third Party Agreement will also see Canada commit to welcoming 15,000 immigrants from across the Western Hemisphere this year, more than three times the number previously intended.
But Jenny Kwan, the New Democrat critic for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, said widening official pathways to refugee status will do little to ease pressures at the border.
“In 2022, nearly 40,000 migrants entered the country through Roxham Road,” she said in a statement in which she roundly condemned the expanded agreement. “This ineffective measure will not protect Canadians — it will only further endanger and marginalize asylum seekers fleeing persecution and trying to come to safety in Canada.”
Both Kwan and the Canadian Council for Refugees also criticized the Liberal government for proceeding with the expansion while the country’s top court is still grappling with questions about the constitutionality of the original deal.
“The Supreme Court (of Canada) is expected to rule soon on whether the existing Safe Third Country Agreement violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms — it is shocking that the Canadian government is extending the Agreement while the question of the constitutionality of the Agreement is before the Court,” the council said in a statement.
At least one asylum seeker indicated he planned to press on with efforts to come to Canada.
A man identifying himself only as Herman said he arrived in New York on Friday after fleeing Congo and hopes to join relatives currently living in Ottawa.
His wife and four kids remain in his home country, but Herman — speaking in French — said there’s no choice but to forge ahead with the search for a new home.
“I miss them, but the conditions over there are dire,” he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 25, 2023.
Poilievre threatens to filibuster budget bill if Liberals don’t meet demands
Flanked by Conservative Finance and Middle Class Prosperity critic Jasraj Singh Hallan and Conservative deputy leader Melissa Lantsman and other members of Parliament, Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre speaks with reporters in the Foyer of the House of Commons, Monday, June 5, 2023 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is threatening to use procedural tools to delay passage of the federal budget in the House of Commons if the Liberals don’t meet his demands.
During a news conference this morning, Poilievre outlines two conditions to avoid potential filibustering by his party.
He is calling on the federal government to present a plan to balance its budget “in order to bring down inflation and interest rates.”
He also demands the Liberals cancel any future increases to the carbon price.
Poilievre says if his demands are not met, his party will use all procedural tools at its disposal, including amendments and lengthy speeches, to block the bill.
Poilievre’s threat comes as MPs gear up for their summer break, with the Commons set to rise June 23.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 5, 2023.
Conservatives call on feds to see killer Bernardo returned to maximum-security prison
Paul Bernardo sits in the back of a police cruiser as he leaves a hearing in St. Catharines, Ont., April 5, 1994. The lawyer for the families of Paul Bernardo’s victims says the killer and serial rapist should be returned to his maximum-security prison and transparency be provided around what led to his transfer to a medium-security facility in the first place.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
By Stephanie Taylor in Ottawa
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is calling on the federal government to use whatever tools it can to reverse a decision by the Correctional Service of Canada to transfer killer Paul Bernardo to a medium-security prison.
Bernardo’s move to a facility in Quebec was made public last week after the correctional service notified the lawyer representing the families of 15-year-old Kristen French and 14-year-old Leslie Mahaffy, whom Bernardo kidnapped, tortured and murdered in the early 1990s.
The killer and serial rapist had been serving a life sentence at Millhaven Institution, a maximum-security penitentiary near Kingston, Ont.
Tim Danson, a lawyer for the victims’ families, says it was unacceptable that the prison service refused to answer questions about the reason for the Bernardo’s move or details of his custody conditions, citing his privacy rights.
Speaking to reporters in Ottawa, Poilievre called Bernardo a “monster” and said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government should work to see him returned to a maximum-security prison.
In a statement last Friday, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said Bernardo’s transfer was “shocking and incomprehensible,” adding that he planned to raise the issue with Anne Kelly, commissioner of the federal correctional service.
Danson said he was pleased to the minister’s statement
“Now we need action,” he told The Canadian Press on Sunday. “This is one of Canada’s most notorious, sadistic, psychopathic killers.”
“We need the public in masses, in millions, to be writing to the minister, to the commissioner of corrections, and to the members of Parliament, to express their outrage over this — that secrecy will not work. We want transparency.”
Mendicino said in his statement he expects the correctional service to “take a victim-centred and trauma-informed approach in these cases.”
The service, for its part, issued a statement offering no details about Bernardo’s transfer but saying safety is its “paramount consideration” in all such decisions.
“While we cannot comment on the specifics of an offender’s case under the Privacy Act, we want to assure the public that this offender continues to be incarcerated in a secure institution, with appropriate security perimeters and controls in place,” the statement read.
It went on to note that Bernardo, who has been designated a dangerous offender, is serving an “indeterminate sentence” with no end date.
Danson said the French and Mahaffy families were shocked to hear of Bernardo’s transfer, with the move bringing up decades of anguish and grief.
“Then for me to have to tell them as their lawyer and their friend, ‘I’m afraid I have no answers for you because of Bernardo’s privacy rights,'” he said.
“Of course their response is the one that you would expect: What about the rights of Kristen? What about the rights of Leslie? What about their rights?”
“These are questions I can’t answer other than just to agree with them and share in their despair.”
Bernardo’s dangerous offender status makes the move all the more puzzling, Danson added as he questioned why Bernardo should reap any benefits of being in a medium-security facility with more lenient living conditions.
“We need an open and transparent discussion and debate. These are major, major public institutions paid for by the taxpayers of Canada.”
He suggested the correctional service’s handling of the matter risks leading the public to feel suspicious of the entire system.
“They want to do everything behind closed doors and secretly.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on June 5, 2023.
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