Trudeau calls for renegotiated border treaty to stop Roxham Road migrants – US envoy hits back

Asylum seekers arrive at the Roxham Road junction.  (Radio Canada - photo credit)

Asylum seekers arrive at the Roxham Road junction. (Radio Canada – photo credit)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the federal government is working to close the Roxham Road irregular crossing point by renegotiating the safe third countries agreement with the United States – but the US ambassador to Canada says changing the agreement would not solve the problem solve.

“The problem is that we have 6,000 kilometers of undefended common borders with the United States … People will choose to go somewhere else,” Trudeau said at a news conference on Wednesday.

“The only way to effectively close not just Roxham Road but the entire border to these irregular crossings is to renegotiate the Safe Third Countries Agreement.”

But in an interview with CBC’s Power & Politics On Wednesday, Ambassador David L. Cohen said changes to the Safe Third Country Agreement would do “very little” to combat irregular migration.

Cohen added that the talks between the two governments are about irregular migration in general. He called Roxham Road a “symptom of this problem”.

“It is a mistake to think that you can solve this problem by only treating the symptoms. You have to address the root causes of irregular migration,” he said. “We are committed to the productive discussions we are having with Canada on this issue.”

Cohen would not confirm that the United States would renegotiate the deal with Canada.

“You have never seen or heard anyone from the United States confirm that there are specific discussions about the Safe Third Countries Agreement, and I will not be the first United States official to make that statement,” he said.

A statement from the office of Immigration Secretary Sean Fraser, responding to Cohen’s comments, said Canada agrees the root causes must be addressed. But Fraser’s office also claimed that the Safe Third Country Agreement needed to be “modernized.”

“The reality is that solving irregular migration to Canada requires a focus both on the root cause in a migrant’s country of origin and on measures that promote welcoming immigration policies with controlled borders,” the statement said.

“We look forward to continuing our work with the United States to advance our work internationally and along our shared border.”

The agreement regulates asylum applications between Canada and the United States. Roxham Road is not an official border crossing; An influx of irregular migrants entering Canada at this location has prompted Quebec Premier Francois Legault and Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre to urge the government to close it as an entry point.

In an open letter published in the globe and mail On Tuesday, Legault said refugee claims are stretching Quebec’s social services and the situation raises humanitarian concerns.

Poilievre said on Tuesday the government should come up with a plan to close access to Canada via Roxham Road within a month.

Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press

Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press

But Trudeau dismissed any suggestion that the crossing could be completed by anything other than a renegotiated Safe Third Countries Agreement.

“Could someone put up barricades and a great wall? Yes. If Pierre Poilievre wants to build a wall on Roxham Road, someone could do it,” Trudeau said.

“People can discard simplistic solutions. That is their right. But if someone is serious about solving the problem, you have to roll up your sleeves and do the work, as we do.”

Negotiations between Canada and the United States on the deal are ongoing, Trudeau said. He didn’t say when the two sides are expected to finalize talks, but said the government was making “real progress”.

The agreement, signed in 2002, states that migrants must apply for asylum in the first of the two countries they enter. The agreement does not apply to irregular crossing points such as Roxham Road.

REGARD | Feds are said to be helping alleviate the “unique pressures” Quebec faces from asylum seekers

About 39,000 people sought asylum in Canada by crossing Roxham Road last year, Legault said in a letter to Trudeau last week.

In the same letter, Legault asked the Quebec government to help send some of the migrants to other provinces.

Fraser said Wednesday the government is working with other provinces to ease pressure on Quebec by setting up temporary shelters for migrants.

Fraser added that he sympathizes with Legault.

“Premier Legault has very serious concerns, which he is right to raise,” he said at a news conference.

“It is not fair or right that any municipality or province should bear the brunt of a challenge we face as Canada honors its domestic and legal obligations.”

Trudeau said on Wednesday that Quebec had “significantly stepped up” in support for irregular migrants.

But Fraser dismissed Poilievre’s call for Roxham Road to be closed within 30 days, calling the proposal “reckless” and “not a thoughtful approach”.

“They would just shift the problem to other points along the Canada-US border,” Fraser said. “The result would likely be serious risks to vulnerable migrants seeking safe haven in Canada and potentially being forced to cross a dangerous portion of the border.”

Fraser said he will meet with his US counterpart in the coming weeks to discuss the Safe Third Countries Agreement.


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