Ottawa has no intention of cancelling its Third Safe Country agreement with the United States despite the immigration crackdown by the Trump administration, federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said during a speech at a major immigration conference in Montreal.
Hussen, a former Somali refugee, was addressing hundreds of participants of the 19th National Metropolis Conference taking place in downtown Montreal this week when his keynote speech was interrupted by a group of protesters demanding the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tear up the agreement with Washington.
“If these individuals are honest, they will know the Third Safe Country agreement has not been impacted by Donald Trump’s executive orders,” Hussen said straining to be heard over the shouts of protesters.
President Trump’s executive orders have impacted the government resettlement of refugees from abroad, Hussen said.
“The Third Safe Country agreement deals with the domestic asylum system of the United States and Canada, and the domestic asylum system of the United States is monitored by the U.S. judiciary, which is independent,” he said.
Thus the Third Safe Country agreement will remain in place because the U.S. domestic asylum system has due process, Hussen said.
Facing refugee influx
Under the agreement between the two North American neighbours, most refugee claimants seeking entry to Canada from the U.S. are turned away at a border checkpoint because Canada considers the U.S. a safe country for refugees.
However, since the beginning of the year hundreds of asylum seekers have been crossing the border in order to take advantage of a legal loophole that allows them to make a refugee claim once inside Canada, as opposed to risking being turned away at an official border entry point.
According to the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) there was a six-fold increase in refugee claims at Quebec’s land border with New York, Vermont and Maine in February compared to the same month a year earlier.
A total of 635 people requested asylum in February after crossing into Quebec from the U.S., compared with 99 in February 2016, CBC News reported, quoting CBSA officials. In January, 452 people claimed asylum at Quebec border crossings, a 230 per cent increase from January 2016.
Canadian officials say while there have also been increases in the number of irregular crossings by asylum seekers in British Columbia and Manitoba, Quebec has experienced the largest increase in asylum claims.
There is speculation that Trump’s executive order on immigration has been a major factor in this refugee influx. The original order, signed at the end of January, temporarily banned entry to the U.S. from seven majority-Muslim countries and suspended the U.S. refugee program.
The controversial order referred to as a “Muslim ban” by critics was eventually put on hold by U.S. courts, but Trump last week issued a revised order that was due to take effect Thursday. However, it too was blocked by a federal judge in Hawaii, who issued a temporary injunction against the executive order hours before it was to take effect.
The growing number of asylum seekers risking life and limb – a Ghanaian refugee claimant who crossed the U.S.-Canada border into Manitoba on Christmas Eve lost his fingers and thumbs due to severe frostbite – has the opposition Conservative Party calling on the Trudeau government to enforce the 8,991-kilometre border with the U.S. and close the legal loophole that entices asylum seekers.
The government argues that under the UN Convention of Refugees the country is obliged to hear all asylum claims filed by people who make it into Canada.
On the left, the New Democratic Party is calling on the government to scrap the Third Safe Country agreement with the U.S., which would remove the reason many asylum seekers risk a potentially dangerous irregular crossing in the first place.