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The ONW Salon: Should Canada Crack Down On Asylum Seekers Sneaking In?

As increasing numbers of asylum seekers sneak into Canada at non-official border crossings, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale plans to raise the issue with the U.S.   Entering at non-official crossings exempts them from the Safe Third Country Agreement, which requires them to seek asylum at the first official border crossing they attempt. Should Canada be cracking down on those trying to sneak in? Richard Mahoney, John Capobianco and Tom Parkin weigh in.


Richard Mahoney:

While most observers agree that Prime Minister Trudeau and his team have handled matters with the new U.S. administration shrewdly, the growing number of people showing up at our border crossings points is a good example of how Trump's travel ban and deportation madness creates problems for American allies and neighbours.

While it is true that U.S. courts have struck down the travel ban, at least for now, U.S. border agents are detaining people who are lawfully entitled to gain entry. They are making it more difficult for others to gain entry. And the simple threat of a mass deportation force has forced people to flee. Some of them are simply showing up at our borders and saying "help".

We are a nation of laws, so there are rules that govern who can and who cannot gain entry. The first job of the government is to protect the safety of Canadians and keep our borders secure. Border patrols have been increased and Canadian law enforcement agencies have new demands placed on them. You have to be impressed by the officers we have all seen in Manitoba, humanely and gracefully taking those that cross illegally into custody. It makes you proud to be a Canadian, and feels like ... us.

Those that seek asylum need to be treated with compassion and in accordance with our values and our international agreements. UN observers have complimented both the RCMP and CBSA officers who have informed asylum claimants of their rights smoothly, compassionately and professionally.

Minister Ralph Goodale will now have to go down to the U.S. and point out to the Americans that many of these claims are being caused by American government actions, and some of them are in violation of international agreements, including those concerning asylum protection, and that they are having a real impact on Canada.


Tom Parkin:

There’s so much fact-free spin it’s hard to know what “cracking down” actually means anymore. Somehow this impression has been created that we don’t patrol our borders, don’t arrest people who sneak across borders, just greet them and turn them - poof! –into instant Canadians. Of course all of that is completely false.

For all Richard’s talk of compassion, nothing has changed in the rules between the Trudeau and Harper governments. When people are apprehended at the border, they are arrested. If they are seeking asylum, they are assessed on the same criteria as someone seeking to cross at a controlled border point. And, just like anyone, those others, if they don’t meet the criteria, are deported. This is why Tony Clement couldn't explaining himself when he was asked what, specifically, he would do to back-up his call for a crackdown. Trudeau is doing exactly as Clement's government did.

And as for handling our relationship with the U.S. “shrewdly” – Richard, I don’t think the majority of Canadians are too pleased that Trudeau has called up Brian Mulroney, a man with a history of scandal and big potential conflicts, to play a key role with Trump and NAFTA. He’s already floating trial balloons about giving away agriculture programs. A sell-out as always!


John Capobianco:

This situation is a circumstance made by both President Trump's strong anti-immigrant position, which we all witnessed with his failed attempt at an Executive Order banning citizens from several countries from coming into the U.S., and our PM's early and generous offer to increase refugees into our country. So it would make some sense that individuals who are illegally in the U.S. would come north to a more accepting country.

Yes, Richard is right that the news of the border officers in Manitoba seen to be handling asylum seekers from the U.S. with friendly and open arms may make some Canadian feel great about themselves. But he ignores another large contingent of Canadians who are worried that these few hundred will become thousands and how many of them are actually getting in without detection.

That is the issue.  Our safety has to come first. There is no debate that our country is a country of immigrants - I am thankful everyday that my parents decided to come to Canada from Italy so I can have a better life - and there are millions of stories like mine. And despite some who will trash former PM Harper and his government for being anti-immigration, nothing is farther from the truth.

However, we need to ensure the laws are upheld and in special circumstances like we are seeing happening now it is important to ensure there are laws and consequences. You can do that and be compassionate - these are not mutually exclusive. But you need to have a plan.

Richard Mahoney:

I guess Tom had some trouble finding a way to criticize how the Trudeau government has handled this. And that obviously disappoints Tom. So he drags up Brian Mulroney as a criticism of Justin Trudeau. I assume Tom and our readers know that Brian Mulroney is not the Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau is. He is not our Foreign Affairs Minister, Chrystia Freeland is. He is not our Ambassador to the U.S., David MacNaughton is. Those people, and the many officials who work with them, are managing our relationship with the U.S. government, not Brian Mulroney. But I am pretty sure Tom knows that.

Where Tom is right is that no one is “getting in without detection” to use John’s phrase. When people cross the border illegally they are apprehended, as Tom points out. There are processes in place to determine whether they are refugees. Those have not changed. There are processes in place to refuse entry to anyone not entitled to gain entry, anyone who poses a risk, and to deport those who are here illegally.

Sadly, one thing that has not changed is that we still have Conservative politicians trying to scare Canadians on this issue. In the last campaign Stephen Harper and Kellie Leitch proposed a gratuitous niqab ban and barbaric practices hotline. Now some propose a values test, and oppose a simple motion in Parliament to condemn Islamophobia. Shame on all of them who do so. Not every Conservative believes in that nonsense, and kudos to those who speak out against the leadership that tries to do a northern version of Trump.

All that said, Minister Goodale will have his work cut out for him. He will have to point out to the Trump administration how its policies are actually hurting international efforts to keep borders secure and to deal with asylum seekers, and how its recent actions fly in the face of their own commitments to agreements and laws on things like safe third countries.

Ralph Goodale is a thoughtful competent man, leading a ministry of officials who are apparently doing a good job in difficult and changing circumstances. Let's hope they make progress on this issue in the same way they are making progress on protecting us from the ravages of Trump trade policy. This one may be even more difficult to pull off, because there is less logic and reason involved, as difficult as that is to imagine.  


Tom Parkin:

It’s a side issue, but let’s stick to facts. The Liberals have Brian Mulroney acting as an intermediary. He is speaking to Trump and calling up U.S. politicians on our behalf (and singing to the President, too!). On Trudeau’s request, Mulroney arranged for the head of Trump’s economic panel to join a Liberal cabinet meeting. He is attending an upcoming cabinet committee meeting.

Marc Garneau has confirmed Mulroney is not being paid by the government. Canadians don’t know Mulroney’s role, his objective, his sources of income, what ethical and conflict rules apply. He is an active businessperson and investor who could have many conflicts.

It’s a train wreck and to me it is absolutely stunning that Trudeau would use a disgraced former PM – one who accepted $225,000 in cash from Karlheinz Schrieber, snuck it across the border and didn’t pay taxes on it until Schrieber was charged with €7 million in tax evasion.

But speaking about sneaking across the border, once again, between John and Richard, we see the how dangerously this discussion has veered away from facts. Richard talks about compassion. John talks about fears. But neither talks much about facts. And the fact is, nothing has changed, and neither is suggesting any specific changes.

The Safe Third Country Agreement means someone who has claimed asylum status in the United States will not be admitted to Canada at a border point. But this doesn’t apply to people apprehended inside Canada – they get a hearing. This system creates an incentive to enter by the backdoor – journeys that are unsafe and illegal.

The NDP has advocated that the Safe Third Country Agreement be suspended to encourage people to seek asylum in Canada through the front door – the safe and legal route. But the Liberals don’t want to make these changes because they are afraid to do anything that might be perceived as being contrary to Trump. And the Conservatives don’t want to make these changes because - well, I don’t know why.

It is not reasonable or affordable to have CBSA guards patrol the 9,000 km border with the United States. So we have to address the perverse incentives created by the Safe Third Country agreement.

We can't be held back from doing something in our interests because we fear it might upset the KKK-endorsed self-admitted serial groper in the U.S. President's office. We have to govern ourselves in our interests.


John Capobianco:

Really Tom? Brian Mulroney! What next? Somehow Mike Harris is involved with this as well?  Just waiting for that mention. Stick to constructive criticism, Tom and stop bringing in leaders who are no longer in power - too bad I can't do that with any federal NDP leader. Also, I will not allow the great work that Jason Kenney did when he was Immigration Minster or the Harper government during their 10 years in power to get drive-by-smeared by Richard. Lets stick to what is happening now.

The issue at hand is that the U.S. President and his position on immigration and refugees, which got a lot of American support, has and will likely continue to cause refugees and those wanting to seek asylum to come to Canada now more than ever before. We are seeing that happen every day and in many cases with considerable health risks for those attempting to cross the border in harsh weather conditions.

We will continue to treat individuals and families coming over with compassion as it is the Canadian way of doing things, but that does not mean we can't and shouldn't ensure that they are here for the right reasons. And if they are not, then we have to have a plan to deal with that. It is the responsible thing to do and right now, there doesn't seem to be a plan in place to deal with this influx of border crossings,

I agree with Richard that Minister Ralph Goodale is competent, but we need to ensure a plan is in place to deal with those we suspect are not here for the right reasons. That is not about fear, Tom, but about being responsible and keeping Canadians safe, and that is a concern to many Canadians.


Richard Mahoney is a lawyer with deep experience in politics and governance.  He is a former senior advisor to the Rt. Hon Paul Martin, a former Campaign Chair and President of the Ontario Liberal Party. John Capobianco is a Senior Partner and National Public Affairs Lead at FleishmanHillard. He has been a Conservative strategist with over 30 years of political activism at all three levels, including as a former federal Conservative candidate. Tom Parkin is a veteran NDP strategist and a frequent commentator on national issues. 




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