When my American counterpart, US Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, came to Ottawa last Friday, we had a lot to talk about. Between us runs the longest, most open and successful international boundary in the history of the world. Every single day, more than 400,000 people cross back-and-forth between Canada and the United States, as does more than $2.4 billion in two-way trade. Daily! And mostly without a hitch.
We both want a border that is safe and secure, but also efficient and expeditious for legitimate travel and trade. We both recognize the vital importance of consistent, predictable and respectful interactions at the border for people and goods moving in both directions.
One topic I discussed in particular with Secretary Kelly was the influx of asylum seekers coming into Canada by walking across the border at certain irregular locations.
To put these movements in context, there are two entirely separate streams of newcomers who make their way to Canada every year. The regular immigration stream, including sponsored refugees from overseas, is carefully planned and managed in an orderly fashion over the long term.
The other stream—spontaneous asylum seekers—is much smaller and largely unpredictable. These are people who feel they are in danger or at risk, and once they get themselves into Canada by whatever means, they claim asylum in this country for their personal protection. They represent only a fraction of all the newcomers we welcome every year, and do not impinge on the regular system.
Their numbers, while still small overall, have been rising through the past several years and months. The hot spots at the moment for irregular crossings are near Lacolle on the border between Quebec and New York, and near Emerson on the border between Manitoba and North Dakota. We are working now on both sides of the border to determine exactly where these people are coming from, how and why.
But in the meantime, they are indeed coming. That’s the physical reality we have to deal with—according to Canadian law and our international obligations.
The border runs some 9,000 kilometres. There are 117 official Ports of Entry under the jurisdiction of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). Between these Ports, the line is monitored and patrolled by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). No one would seriously suggest building barricades or installing other means to keep people away by force.
The upfront preoccupation of the CBSA and the RCMP is to ensure the safety and security of Canadians, as well as the health and well-being of the asylum seekers who have been putting themselves in dangerous situations in some severe winter weather.
The public can be assured that all Canadian laws are being duly enforced. And according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the behaviour of all Canadian authorities and agencies has been “impressive” and “compassionate”.
To be clear – trying to slip across the border in an irregular manner is not a “free” ticket to Canada. The asylum seekers are apprehended and secured by police or local authorities. Their identities are determined from both biographic and biometric information. Health checks are done. Their records are examined for any immigration, criminal or terrorist flags against both Canadian and international databases.
Those who cannot be identified, are a flight risk or pose a danger to the public can be detained. They all go before the quasi-judicial Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) to adjudicate their status through due process. If they are found to be inadmissible without a valid claim, deportation procedures are begun.
To handle these matters thus far, CBSA and the RCMP have made internal adjustments to ensure they have the right personnel and tools in the right places to deal with existing circumstance safely and securely. As the situation evolves, these professional organizations will advise as to what extra resources may be required. Contingency planning is underway to anticipate possible future developments and be ready to respond.
Canadian authorities are managing the increased movement of asylum seekers in a sound and measured way, applying our laws and procedures to keep Canadians safe while fully respecting all of this country’s international obligations.
As discussed with Secretary Kelly, both Canada and the United States are committed to sharing information about this situation so we can fully understand these migrant flows, both at and between Ports of Entry. We are also both committed to upholding our strong asylum systems and to humane and professional law enforcement.