Canada must solve its own border mess
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.
Asylum seekers wait to illegally cross the Canada-U.S. border near Champlain, N.Y.