Safety first in Canada’s migrant crisis
“To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength.”
That’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, admirably tweeting his support for vulnerable refugees in the wake of Donald Trump’s notorious executive order targeting people who arrive in the U.S. without status and, later, specifically people from seven mostly-Muslim nations.
Trudeau was doing the right thing. But he didn’t go far enough. Now, hundreds of status-less migrants are crossing the Canadian border in hopes of refuge. In too many cases, they are not doing so safely or in an organized way. Small communities like Emerson, Man., and Hemmingford, Que., are grappling with unprecedented demand for support.
The migrants will all have to go through the existing screening, application and adjudication process. It’s backlogged at the best of times, so there are legitimate concerns about how it will deal with the workload. In the meantime, we should be concerned about the risk facing these asylum seekers. As the influx continues, we need a way to optimize order and safety for all concerned, before the worst happens and people are seriously hurt (some have already sustained serious frostbite) or killed.
A strategy is at hand. A national petition driven by immigration experts and lawyers calls on the government to temporarily suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement. Under the bilateral agreement signed in 2004, refugees are required to claim asylum in the first country they reach. They cannot then claim asylum in the second country. So refugees coming through Canadian border crossings from the American side have to be turned back, because the U.S. is considered a safe country from which to apply.
Whether or not the U.S. is still a safe country, as many are now arguing, is beside the point. Suspending the agreement for a matter of months would allow refugees to claim status at safe, secure and resourced border crossings as opposed to entering through unguarded crossings. The government needs to do this soon, before a tragedy forces their hand.
This story is only beginning. The government needs to take steps to adequately resource overtaxed systems and staff. It needs to take action on Islamophobia, as suggested by motion M-103 debated in Parliament last week. (A side note: it’s encouraging that Ontario PC Leader Patrick Brown has said his party will join with those supporting the motion and the work it proposes. Good for him for not falling into lockstep with his federal colleagues who oppose it.) But the first priority should be safety and organization, and that is best served by suspending the agreement while we come to grips with this new and challenging reality.