Bill Blair, Canada’s Border Security Minister, Aims To Alter The Safe Third Country Agreement

Last week Bill Blair, Canada’s Border Security Minister, met with U.S. officials to alter a provision in the Safe Third Country Agreement which allows asylum-seekers to claim refugee protection if they do not enter through an official border checkpoint. The ‘loophole’ has led approximately 40,000 asylum seekers to cross into Canada, more specifically into Quebec through the Roxham Road, from the United States.

The Canada–United States Safe Third Country Agreement outlines that migrants should claim asylum in the first ‘safe’ country they arrive in. However, the treaty does not apply unless asylum seekers come through an official point of entry which has complicated things for both states because Canada and the U.S. share the world’s largest undefended border. Therefore, the majority of asylum seekers are entering Canada irregularly from Quebec which has spurred anti-immigrant rhetoric in the province as well as demands for greater control over immigration and financial compensation from the federal government.

According to the National Post, Bill Blair said that “The agreement worked quite effectively for well over a decade and continues to work at regular points of entry and at our airports, but unfortunately there is this exemption that exists in the current agreement that allows people to avoid its terms if they present themselves at an irregular border point, so that’s one of the things we are hoping to address in those discussions.”

Most of the migrants trying to enter Canada have lived in the United States for years and have a legal status under a program established in the 1990s that offers temporary status to people who have been victims of war or environmental tragedies. However, as President Trump announced an end to this temporary protected status program, Canada has seen a surge in asylum seekers.

The West has seen a rise in anti-immigrant, nationalist rhetoric that has awarded right wing parties electoral victories and Canada is gearing up for a federal election in 2019. Immigration will most likely be a contentious issue to secure more votes with antagonistic platforms already being propagated by parties. Maxime Bernier, leader of the newly formed People’s Party of Canada, has proposed to tackle “extreme multiculturalism” and the “cult of diversity at all cost” while Andrew Scheer, leader of the Conservative party, has vehemently criticized Prime Minister Trudeau for his immigration policies that has spurred Canada into a border crisis.

On the other hand, the National Democratic Party’s leader, Jagmeet Singh, thinks the entire treaty should be abrogated because the U.S. is not a safe country anymore. The federal government needs to carefully consider all the consequences that may arise from changing certain provisions of the treaty. By altering the treaty, they could curb the number of irregular asylum seekers and process claims that are filed legally however this poses a risk for those who are worried about their status within the United States. The government should extend the treaty across the border but instead of turning individuals away they should create centres where their request can be processed, after the ones that are legally filed are addressed, and evaluate whether they need refuge from the United States.