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A family of asylum seekers from Colombia is met by RCMP officers after crossing the border at Roxham Road into Canada Thursday, February 9, 2023 in Champlain, New York.Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

The federal government transported almost all of the migrants entering the country through Roxham Road to other provinces over the weekend, said Quebec Minister of Immigration Christine Fréchette on Tuesday, calling the wave of relocations a “new approach” from Ottawa.

Three hundred seventy-two of the 380 migrants who arrived in Quebec by that route on Saturday and Sunday were relocated, largely to Ontario, the minister said in a scrum in Quebec City on Tuesday.

She saluted Ottawa for fulfilling the province’s demand for help with the recent influx of asylum seekers through the irregular border crossing south of Montreal and called on Justin Trudeau’s government to continue.

“We are starting to see results,” said Ms. Fréchette. “We’re very happy with that.”

The federal government has been relocating Roxham Road migrants regularly because of capacity constraints in Quebec since last summer, and would not confirm whether the spike in relocations was a new policy or a blip. Since June, more than 5,300 migrants have been relocated from the province, including some 500 to Windsor, Ont., and roughly 2,700 to Niagara Falls, Ont.

A federal source said this is part of a long-standing initiative, paid for by Ottawa, but did not clarify whether the number of people being relocated outside Quebec have been expanded. The source added that people who do not want to relocate can stay in Quebec.

The Globe and Mail is not naming the source because they were not authorized to speak about the matter.

Editorial: Justin Trudeau needs to stop stalling on Roxham Road

Ms. Fréchette called on the federal government to maintain the recent heightened rate of removals, repeating her government’s position that Quebec’s “welcoming capacity” has been surpassed. Roughly 60,000 asylum seekers arrived in Quebec last year, double the annual number from before the pandemic, the minister has said.

That has sparked a fierce political debate in the province about how to manage the situation, with the opposition Parti Québécois tabling a motion in the National Assembly recently calling on the government to “close” the border crossing.

Federal opposition parties have also repeatedly called for a review of the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States, a long-standing pact that requires border agents from each country to turn away asylum seekers from the other if they present themselves at official land border crossings.

Roxham Road, along the border between New York State and Quebec, has become the primary route for irregular entries into Canada in recent years. The RCMP intercepted 34,478 asylum seekers who did not use official ports of entry to enter Quebec between January and November of 2022, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada data, compared with just 316 in the rest of the country.

On Tuesday, Ms. Fréchette called the weekend’s mass relocations a “first step” that could potentially come to involve other provinces receiving asylum seekers from Roxham Road. She said the federal government recently booked 500 hotel rooms to house migrants in Ontario as a sign of seriousness.

“I don’t have information about what happened on Monday, but we are expecting that this new approach persists,” she said.

In the future, she added, her government is asking that the share of asylum seekers who stay in Quebec be kept around 22 or 23 per cent, in keeping with the province’s demographic weight within Canada.

Roxham Road has become one of the stickiest issues in Quebec politics as Premier François Legault’s nationalist Coalition Avenir Québec government has sought to manage public unease with the increase in irregular migration.

On Tuesday, Mr. Legault met with U.S. ambassador to Canada David Cohen to ask for a speedy renegotiation of the agreement governing asylum seekers between the countries.

“I said to him, ‘I don’t understand why it’s taking this long to settle with the United States.’ What we’re asking is that the Safe Third Country Agreement be applied to all ports of entry, including Roxham.”

With reports from Campbell Clark, Frédérik-Xavier Duhamel, and The Canadian Press

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