One of the most difficult things for any politician to do is tell the whole truth. To defend a policy position, they will often repeat selective facts, while not mentioning other facts that put things in perspective.
Such is the case when the federal government says that illegal border crossers from the United States are not queue jumpers. In July 2018, federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said, “… with respect to so-called queue-jumping … we have told them over and over again there is no such thing…”
In the first eight months of 2018, 14,125 people illegally crossed the border and requested asylum. Hussen argues that asylum seekers are not queue jumpers because there is “a separate queue” for illegal border crossers who request asylum.
In other words, if Canada is a nightclub, there is a front door and a back door to get in. Illegal border crossers who request asylum are not “butting in line.” They have a different lineup than people who immigrate to Canada by the normal legal process.
While Hussen is correct, he fails to mention other important facts.
On average, it takes 6 to 12 months to immigrate to Canada. (The processing time for a permanent resident card is currently 64 days, but there are additional steps that must be taken before submitting an application.)
An illegal border crosser doesn’t have to wait 6 to 12 months to live in Canada. They can wake up in the morning in the United States and be in Canada before the day is over. If they are eligible to make an asylum claim, they get to stay in Canada until their claim is heard, a process that takes more than a year.
While they have not delayed the application of someone who wants to immigrate to Canada, they have entered the country 6 to 12 months earlier than the person who follows the normal legal process.
They are able to bypass the normal immigration process because Canada’s immigration system allows people who illegally cross the border to request asylum. The RCMP won’t even stop them from making an illegal crossing.
Hence, an illegal border crosser from the United States is equivalent to a queue jumper. They have leapfrogged into Canada ahead of the people who are waiting to immigrate.
In reality, most asylum seekers from the United States who appear at a land border crossing would be denied entry into Canada. Knowing this, they make an illegal border crossing instead.
Illegal border crossers can request asylum due to a loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement. Under the agreement, “persons seeking refugee protection must make a claim in the first country they arrive in … unless they qualify for an exception…” However, the agreement only applies to people who enter Canada at land border crossings or by train or at an airport. This loophole needs to be closed.
If the agreement were changed (or if Parliament passed legislation), illegal border crossers could be arrested, detained, given due process, and if found guilty of illegal entry, they would be returned to the United States.
Such a measure would not violate the 1951 Refugee convention. According to James Bisset, head of Canada’s Immigration Service from 1985 to 1990, “Canada has chosen to enact laws and regulations that go above and beyond what is required by the Convention.”
While Article 31 states that “Contracting States cannot impose penalties” (i.e., fines or prison time) on asylum seekers who enter a country illegally, it does not prohibit a state from deporting them. Article 33 prohibits a state from deporting most refugees to a place where their “life or freedom would be threatened.” Nevertheless, the Convention does not obligate a state to accept refugees because no nation can accept an unlimited number of immigrants.
Canada has a defacto open borders policy when it comes to asylum seekers. The federal government can stop the flow of illegal border crossings from the United States by changing the law so that only people who enter our country legally can request asylum.
This Op-Ed was originally published in The Nectarine