Erin O’Toole recycles a false claim from the Scheer era: no, thousands of asylum seekers have not crossed ‘illegally’ on Roxham Road

In a french video posted on his Twitter account On Monday with the caption “A Conservative government will close the border on Roxham Road, once and for all,” said Conservative leader Erin O’Toole: “With Justin Trudeau, thousands of people crossed the border illegally. This system is unfair to families who follow the rules and wait their turn.

Not only is it incorrect to say that migrants crossing on Roxham Road in southern Quebec do so illegally, say migration experts, O’Toole’s statement, which recycles an equally false claim made by former Conservative leader Andrew Scheer in 2019 – also promotes “harmful myths against refugees” by falsely equating Canada’s immigration and refugee systems.

“It is not illegal under Canadian law to cross the Canadian-United States border for the purpose of seeking refugee protection,” said Maureen Silcoff, Canadian refugee and immigration attorney and former president of the Canadian Refugee Lawyers Association. Canada’s participation in the 1951 Refugee Convention means that we are legally bound “to allow people arriving at (the) border the opportunity to present their protection needs and assess those needs,” he added.

The 1951 Convention was signed after World War II to codify refugee rights after countries like Canada rejected Jewish refugees facing persecution, said Craig Damian Smith, Canada’s Research Professor of Excellence in Migration and Integration. at University X, the name adopted by some staff members and students prior to Ryerson University’s name change. The Convention prohibits states from penalizing refugees who arrive in their countries from a territory where their life or liberty is threatened, provided they present themselves to the authorities, what the migrants are doing on Roxham Road.

“I propose a welcoming country that respects its borders,” continues O’Toole in the video, adding: “All immigrants can settle in Quebec, in Canada, to work, study or start a family, but in a legal way that respect the laws of the country to which they want to immigrate ”.

By suggesting that asylum seekers on Roxham Road are getting ahead of families hoping to immigrate to Canada, O’Toole is “promoting the myth that there is one line for all,” Silcoff said. Immigrants come to Canada through family sponsorship or if they qualify based on financial need. Refugees can be sponsored from abroad, like what we are seeing with the current crisis in Afghanistan, or they can come to the border and request protection, and neither has any impact on people arriving as immigrants.

“That is perfectly legal,” Silcoff said.

O’Toole promises to “protect our borders” and “end illegal crossings” by upholding Canada’s Safe Third Country Agreement with the US The bilateral agreement, established in 2004, is designed to prevent the “purchase of asylum “by requiring migrants to apply for asylum in the first safe country they land.

The deal has been criticized for conditions in US detention camps and amid US crackdown on immigration, raising the question of whether the US is truly a safe landing place for refugees.

Since 2016, tens of thousands of asylum seekers have entered Canada via Roxham Road, an unofficial land crossing point between New York and Quebec that is not covered by the Safe Third Country Agreement. In response, Canada built a “de facto humanitarian port of entry” to handle and process asylum seekers, Smith explained.

Between 2016 and 2019, most of the migrants crossing Roxham Road transited the United States from elsewhere, while some already resided in the United States but had precarious immigration status there, Smith said. Canada also experienced an increase in asylum applications as a result of changes in US immigration policies under Donald Trump.

Last July, Canada’s Federal Court ruled that the Safe Third Country Agreement violated Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms by exposing asylum seekers to “physical and psychological suffering” in US immigration detention centers. The decision effectively declared that the United States was not safe for refugees.

The federal government appealed the sentence and the Federal Court of Appeals ruled in his favor last April, deciding that the detention of the refugee claimants did not violate the letter.

The debate in court and elsewhere about Roxham Road is complicated, but the question of whether asylum seekers crossing there are doing so “illegally” is not. They are not.

Still, crossing on Roxham Road is not a “golden ticket to Canada,” Silcoff said. The Immigration and Refugee Board has a “rigorous and complex process to determine if someone requires screening from Canada.” It doesn’t happen overnight: Canada accumulation of asylum applications it was at over 63,000 in July.

“The fact that people are crossing between the entry points is a testament to the desperation they face,” Silcoff said.

Throughout the 2021 federal election campaign, I spent a week checking data on each of Canada’s top party leaders, starting with green leader Annamie Paul and ending this week with liberal Justin Trudeau. You can see the results of the project here. Email [email protected] or tweet me @lexharvs with advice on claims or statements that you think you should check.

Lex Harvey is a Toronto-based newsletter producer for The Star and author of the First Up newsletter. Follow her on Twitter: @lexharvs


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