Canada must solve its own bor­der mess

National Post (Latest Edition) - - EDITORIALS -

Ear­lier this week, the Post’s John Ivi­son noted that Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau and his govern­ment seem in­creas­ingly re­signed to con­tin­ued dys­func­tion on the U.S.-Cana­dian bor­der.

Canada, Ivi­son noted, seems to have ab­so­lutely no idea how to stem the flow of asy­lum seek­ers cross­ing into Canada, mostly in Que­bec and Man­i­toba, from the United States.

The tens of thou­sands of il­le­gal cross­ings have over­whelmed the coun­try’s abil­ity to hold timely hear­ings to de­ter­mine the el­i­gi­bil­ity of these in­di­vid­u­als to re­main in the coun­try.

Let’s be clear — some of them will in­deed be found el­i­gi­ble, and once that de­ter­mi­na­tion is made, they should be wel­comed into Canada. But it’s im­por­tant to be equally clear that many will not be ac­cepted — an anal­y­sis by The Cana­dian Press last year found that ac­cep­tance rates for the asy­lum seek­ers were be­low 50 per cent, with the re­main­der ei­ther be­ing re­jected or withdrawing their claims.

For those peo­ple whose claims are not likely to be ap­proved, the years-long de­lays in pro­cess­ing their claims is it­self a per­verse in­cen­tive to come. While claims are be­ing pro­cessed, asy­lum seek­ers are cared for by the Cana­dian tax­payer.

And at con­sid­er­able cost. Provin­cial gov­ern­ments have spent hun­dreds of mil­lions al­ready. So­cial ser­vices in Mon­treal and Toronto have been over­whelmed by the in­flux. The fed­eral govern­ment has spent hun­dreds of mil­lions more to pro­vide at least ba­sic lev­els of se­cu­rity screen­ing, which is im­por­tant, but hasn’t been able to ad­dress the root of the prob­lem — the ir­reg­u­lar ar­rivals. Un­til the govern­ment gets on top of that prob­lem, ev­ery­thing else is just dam­age con­trol.

And how’s that go­ing? Badly, as it turns out. The United States has thus far proven un­in­ter­ested in help­ing us firm up the bor­der — and no won­der. Ev­ery per­son en­ter­ing Canada from the U.S. is one less per­son for the U.S. to worry about. Like­wise, Ot­tawa has also proven in­ca­pable of mean­ing­fully speed­ing up the claims process, which would be one of the best ways of re­duc­ing the in­cen­tive to en­ter Canada il­le­gally in the first place.

So with se­cur­ing the bor­der or ex­pe­dit­ing re­movals ap­par­ently be­yond the govern­ment’s abil­ity, Ivi­son notes the fed­eral govern­ment now seems to be road-test­ing an en­tirely new ap­proach. The ir­reg­u­lar ar­rivals, Cana­di­ans are now ex­pected to ac­cept, are in fact a bless­ing in dis­guise! When asked about the ir­reg­u­lar ar­rivals in a year-end in­ter­view shortly be­fore Christ­mas, the prime min­is­ter replied, in part, “The fact that we have ex­tremely low un­em­ploy­ment, we’re see­ing labour short­ages in cer­tain parts of the coun­try, (means) it is a good time to re­flect that we are bring­ing in im­mi­grants who are go­ing to keep our econ­omy grow­ing.”

In­deed! Im­mi­gra­tion has al­ways been cen­tral to the suc­cess of Canada. That is as true to­day as ever, and will only be more true in the fu­ture. Canada should con­tinue to re­cruit the world’s best and brightest and make them our own. Even as many of our demo­cratic al­lies are grap­pling with anti-im­mi­gra­tion back­lash, Canada has largely avoided that.

But that can change. In­deed, it may be chang­ing al­ready. Polling in re­cent months has shown Cana­dian at­ti­tudes on im­mi­gra­tion hard­en­ing as the bor­der sit­u­a­tion con­tin­ues to make head­lines.

The sit­u­a­tion on the bor­der is sep­a­rate from our le­gal im­mi­gra­tion chan­nel, of course, but many Cana­di­ans haven’t both­ered to ed­u­cate them­selves on the pre­cise de­tails of how our im­mi­gra­tion and asy­lum claim sys­tems op­er­ate.

Dys­func­tion in one taints the other. It shouldn’t. But it does.

This is the prob­lem the Trudeau govern­ment faces. Not just the fi­nan­cial costs of the ir­reg­u­lar ar­rivals, or the costs that are ab­sorbed by the prov­inces. Those are real. But the real price is in the ero­sion of one of Canada’s great­est com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tages — the will­ing­ness of the pub­lic to tol­er­ate high lev­els of le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, where ap­pli­cants are ruth­lessly screened to max­i­mize the ben­e­fits to Canada.

Canada’s sys­tem of im­mi­gra­tion isn’t per­fect, but it’s good — and worth de­fend­ing.

As a new year be­gins, this should be one of the Trudeau govern­ment’s top pri­or­i­ties. Se­cur­ing the bor­der and clear­ing up the claims back­log isn’t just smart pol­i­tics, and it’s not just pru­dent plan­ning. It’s es­sen­tial for the fu­ture of Cana­dian pros­per­ity. New feel-good slo­gans by the prime min­is­ter sim­ply won’t cut it.

GE­OFF ROBINS / AFP / GETTY IM­AGES FILES

Asy­lum seek­ers wait to il­le­gally cross the Canada-U.S. bor­der near Cham­plain, N.Y.

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