From the very beginning of the “asylum seeker” issue about 18 months ago, the Government of Canada has repeatedly emphasized two primary objectives:
- make sure all Canadian laws are enforced, and
- make sure all of Canada’s international obligations are honoured.
We have met those imperatives, without fail, and will continue to do so – ensuring public safety and national security.
The greatest credit belongs to the diligent and hard-working women and men who serve on the front-lines in the RCMP, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship (IRCC). Together, they bear the day-to-day responsibility of maintaining border integrity.
These very effective public servants have had to deal with an uneven, unpredictable and periodically large flow of foreign nationals who have crossed into Canada from the United States by going around (not through) official Ports of Entry.
Last year, nearly 50,000 people made asylum claims in Canada. On that total, some 21,000 crossed into our country in an irregular way. The vast majority of that activity was concentrated at one site along Roxham Road near St. Bernard-de-Lacolle on the Canada-US border between Quebec and New York. The figures to date for 2018 are up a bit from last year.
To put these numbers in context, Canada has handled high numbers of refugee claims in previous years. In 2008, claims reached nearly 37,000. In 2002, the total was over 33,000. In 2001, close to 45,000 refugee claims were filed in this country.
So what happens when someone enters Canada by just stepping across the border without going through a Port of Entry?
First, each and every one of them is arrested by the RCMP. They are thoroughly questioned by both the RCMP and the CBSA. Their documentation is examined. They are searched, finger-printed and photographed. Their personal data – both biographic and biometric – are checked against Canadian and international databases (including Interpol) for any immigration, security or criminal issues.
Since the vast majority of these border-crossers have already met admissibility criteria to enter the United States before ever getting to the Canadian border, the risk of security or safety issues being encountered is generally quite low. If any criminal activity is detected or suspected, that individual is immediately turned over to local law enforcement authorities to be dealt with according to law. If there are others concerns – i.e., a border-crosser cannot be adequately identified, or could be a danger to the public, or is a flight risk – the CBSA has the authority to detain them until those issues are satisfactorily resolved.
For the record, the number of problems cases arising over the past 18 months has been very small.
Once the RCMP and CBSA are satisfied about identity, security and safety issues, IRCC officials interview each person to determine their eligibility to apply for asylum in Canada under the terms of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA). Someone with a record of serious criminality, for example, is simply not eligible to even apply. And they must leave.
For those who are eligible, they must next appear before the independent and quasi-judicial Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) to prove their case. Do they or do they not need asylum in Canada to protect them from persecution, torture, terror or war in their home country? It’s a question of fact in each individual case. And the onus is on the applicant to prove it.
Asylum seekers who fail to convince the IRB of their legitimacy, become inadmissible to Canada and subject to deportation. They have certain defined rights of appeal and due process, but when all of that is exhausted, they must leave.
A pivotal part of Canadian law is Section 133 of the IRPA. It has existed in one form or another since the 1960’s – through successive federal governments, both Liberal and Conservative, including the Harper regime. Section 133 says that regardless of how an asylum seeker entered Canada, the first issue to be addressed and settled is the legitimacy of his/her claim for asylum. If that claim is proven to be valid, then the manner by which he/she came into Canada is no longer relevant or actionable.
That is Canadian law. It flows from the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees which Canada signed nearly 50 years ago. Independent observers of the current situation, like the UN High Commission for Refugees has had the highest praise for Canadian police and border authorities for the exemplary manner in which the asylum seeker issue is being handled and managed.
We need to reinforce confidence in our border operations and in our excellent personnel. Facing an extraordinary challenge, they continue to do an extraordinary job – enforcing all Canadian laws and keeping our country safe and secure, while also honouring all of our international obligations.