Scheer vows to close asy­lum ‘loop­hole’

Con­ser­va­tive leader is tap­ping into ‘xeno­pho­bic fears’ with MS-13 ref­er­ence, says ad­vo­cate

The Peterborough Examiner - - OPINION - ANDY BLATCHFORD

ST-BERNARD-DE-LACOLLE, QUE. — An­drew Scheer brought his na­tional cam­paign to the edge of the U.S. bor­der, where he pledged to shut a le­gal “loop­hole” that he says has en­abled tens of thou­sands of asy­lum-seek­ers to cross north into Canada and claim refugee sta­tus.

The Con­ser­va­tive leader, how­ever, didn’t pro­vide specifics Wed­nes­day when pressed at a news con­fer­ence to ex­plain how he would get it done.

Scheer’s big­gest ob­sta­cle would be per­suad­ing U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to rene­go­ti­ate a treaty called the Safe Third Coun­try Agree­ment.

The deal pre­vents asy­lum-seek­ers from claim­ing refugee pro­tec­tion in Canada if they ar­rive at an of­fi­cial bor­der check­point from a coun­try that is con­sid­ered safe, such as the United States. The agree­ment, how­ever, per­mits them to make such claims if they’re al­ready in Canada.

Scheer called it a “loop­hole” in the agree­ment.

In re­cent years, a very pop­u­lar en­try point for asy­lum-seek­ers has been Rox­ham Road, where south­ern Que­bec meets the state of New York. A New York road dead-ends on the Amer­i­can side, sep­a­rated from the Que­bec road by a few me­tres of scrub be­tween trees.

Scheer made Wed­nes­day’s im­mi­gra­tion an­nounce­ment at the end of Rox­ham Road in front of a com­mand post that’s been built for author­i­ties to process il­le­gal crossers.

He didn’t say how he would rene­go­ti­ate the agree­ment with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, only that he would use un­spec­i­fied “other tools” if he forms a govern­ment af­ter the Oct. 21 vote.

“I be­lieve it’s in both coun­tries’ mu­tual ben­e­fit to have this sit­u­a­tion re­solved on a bi­lat­eral ba­sis — that is our pre­ferred op­tion,” Scheer said in the com­mu­nity of St-Bernard-de-Lacolle, with­out ex­plain­ing what the Amer­i­cans would get out of a rene­go­ti­a­tion.

“Of course, we will ex­plore other op­tions, but that is our first course of ac­tion.”

The fed­eral govern­ment says nearly 50,000 peo­ple have en­tered Canada at Rox­ham Road in the last two years, most of them in­tend­ing to claim asy­lum once they’re on Cana­dian soil, since Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion has harshened the U.S. govern­ment’s at­ti­tude to­ward refugee claimants.

The bor­der is­sue has been a big con­cern for many Cana­di­ans, es­pe­cially in Que­bec. Scheer made the an­nounce­ment on the eve of a French-lan­guage lead­ers’ de­bate, the last de­bate be­fore the Oct. 21 elec­tion.

Scheer ar­gued that Lib­eral Leader Justin Trudeau had done “lit­er­ally noth­ing over the past two years — more than two years — to re­solve this is­sue.”

The Con­ser­va­tive plan to stop the flow of so-called ir­reg­u­lar bor­der crossers in­cludes hir­ing 250 ad­di­tional bor­der of­fi­cers.

In his an­nounce­ment, Scheer in­sisted there was a need to pay spe­cial at­ten­tion to in­di­vid­u­als who may be mem­bers of or­ga­nized crime, such as MS-13. He was re­fer­ring to the no­to­ri­ous El Sal­vador­based street gang, which Trump has also made a rhetor­i­cal tar­get when he talks about im­mi­gra­tion and bor­der se­cu­rity.

Asked why he would sin­gle out MS-13 in his speech, Scheer said there have been reports of peo­ple com­ing into Canada with crim­i­nal records or who have been iden­ti­fied as mem­bers of crim­i­nal or­ga­ni­za­tions.

“We want to make sure that when peo­ple come into Canada we are putting the safety and se­cu­rity of Cana­di­ans first,” he said.

“That is para­mount and peo­ple who have en­gaged in dan­ger­ous of vi­o­lent ac­tiv­ity in the past should not be in Canada.” Janet Dench, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Cana­dian Coun­cil for Refugees, said con­cerns about mem­bers of MS-13 are not rel­e­vant to Canada be­cause fed­eral numbers show that fewer than one per cent of refugee claims in 2018 were from El Sal­vado­rans.

“This has been an is­sue raised by an­ti­im­mi­grant politi­cians in the U.S.,” Dench wrote in an email.

“Pre­sum­ably Mr. Scheer is hop­ing to take ad­van­tage of the same xeno­pho­bic fears that U.S. politi­cians have been tap­ping into.”

Scheer said a Con­ser­va­tive govern­ment would de­ploy more judges to pop­u­lar cross­ing points over the shorter term to deal with a back­log of cases weigh­ing on the sys­tem.

Over­all, the Con­ser­va­tives’ im­mi­gra­tion plan would also make it a pri­or­ity to fund ser­vices such as lan­guage train­ing, cre­den­tial recog­ni­tion and the pro­tec­tion of vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple.

Canada’s fu­ture im­mi­gra­tion lev­els would be based on Canada’s pop­u­la­tion needs and its eco­nomic needs, he said.

Scheer would not say whether that means al­low­ing more — or fewer — im­mi­grants into Canada.

“We de­ter­mine a level based on data, based on in­for­ma­tion, based on the needs for our coun­try,” he said.

Ear­lier this year, the Lib­er­als changed the refugee law to pre­vent asy­lum-seek­ers from mak­ing refugee claims in Canada if they’ve made sim­i­lar claims in cer­tain other coun­tries, in­clud­ing the U.S., to pre­vent what the govern­ment has called “asy­lum-shop­ping.”

Lawyers and ad­vo­cates who work with refugees have said that was an at­tack on refugee rights in Canada.

Ear­lier Wed­nes­day, Trudeau sug­gested Scheer’s visit to Rox­ham Road would al­low him to see the in­fra­struc­ture that the Lib­eral govern­ment has in­stalled in the area, where all new ar­rivals — reg­u­lar and ir­reg­u­lar — are held by the RCMP and fully screened.

“There are no short­cuts. There are no skip­ping steps within our im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem. Ev­ery­one ar­riv­ing in Canada goes through the same im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem — a full, rig­or­ous im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem that is be­ing ap­plied,” Trudeau said.

Also Wed­nes­day, Trudeau promised that mil­i­tary per­son­nel will not suf­fer as a re­sult of a bat­tle over money that is play­ing out be­tween the fed­eral govern­ment and the prov­inces, which has al­ready elicited strong words from On­tario, Al­berta and Man­i­toba.

Speak­ing at a cam­paign event in the Toronto-area riding of MarkhamUni­onville on Wed­nes­day, Trudeau char­ac­ter­ized the ques­tion as one of “fairness.”

“The re­al­ity is that the fed­eral govern­ment is be­ing charged sig­nif­i­cantly higher prices for the same ser­vices for mil­i­tary mem­bers as it of­fers to other Cana­di­ans, and we are just look­ing at mak­ing sure that the sys­tem is fair for ev­ery­one,” he said.

“The re­al­ity is what we are look­ing at will not cut any ser­vices to any mil­i­tary mem­bers nor will it neg­a­tively im­pact hos­pi­tals or ser­vice providers. But we’re see­ing a lot of Con­ser­va­tive mis­in­for­ma­tion in this elec­tion cam­paign.”

The bat­tle is over pay­ments to civil­ian hos­pi­tals and other health-care providers when they treat ser­vice mem­bers.

The Cana­dian Armed Forces does pro­vide health care to its mem­bers, but it is not un­com­mon for those in uni­form to turn to pro­vin­cial hos­pi­tals for ser­vices that are not of­fered or read­ily avail­able within the mil­i­tary.

In such situations, the fed­eral govern­ment is re­spon­si­ble for re­im­burs­ing the hos­pi­tal in the same way that prov­inces re­im­burse each other when a res­i­dent of one seeks treat­ment in an­other.

How­ever, Global News has re­ported that Ot­tawa has been rene­go­ti­at­ing new re­im­burse­ment agree­ments with prov­inces, which has raised fears some hos­pi­tals, es­pe­cially ones close to mil­i­tary bases, could lose mil­lions of dol­lars.

There are also con­cerns some hos­pi­tals and health-care providers could start to turn away ser­vice mem­bers in need of care. The Con­ser­va­tives have latched onto the is­sue as an ex­am­ple of the Trudeau Lib­er­als’ let­ting down both troops and vet­er­ans.

JON­ATHAN HAY­WARD THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Con­ser­va­tive Leader An­drew Scheer makes a morn­ing an­nounce­ment at the Canada/U.S. bor­der dur­ing a cam­paign stop in Lacolle, Que., on Wed­nes­day.

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