Everybody knows the way to Roxham Road, just across the border in Quebec from upstate New York. This “illegal” border crossing has now become a semi-permanent settlement, complete with solid-building structures for processing the long lines of arrivals. About 20,000 asylum-seekers entered Canada here last year – and this year’s influx has only just begun.
In other parts of the world, desperate asylum seekers risk their lives on leaky boats, or entrust their fate to human smugglers. But Canada is easy. To get to Canada, all you have to do is take a cab to the border. Your greeting will be warm. The new arrivals at Roxham Road look more like tourists than endangered refugees. Their suitcases are neatly lined up as they wait for buses to take them to their temporary accommodations, where they will receive food, shelter, medical care, financial support, work permits, schooling for their kids – and, eventually, a refugee hearing. No wonder Canada is such a popular destination.
But now, Quebec says it can’t afford the bills. Last year it had to borrow the Olympic Stadium as a temporary shelter. Social services are expensive. Last year, the biggest French school board in Montreal had to manage a 14-per-cent surprise increase in enrolment. And processing times are slow. The average wait time for a refugee hearing is nearly two years.
Quebec has been pressing the federal government for relief in no uncertain terms. And now the feds have an answer. The answer is to ship a large number of the asylum seekers to Ontario – provided that is their “preferred destination.”
But Ontario is stretched thin, too. “Our shelter system is at the bursting point,” said Debbie Douglas, executive director of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants. It’s a familiar problem. The federal government may determine immigration and refugee policies, but it downloads the costs of settling them to local governments, schools and social agencies.
The uncontrolled surge of border-crossers is a ticking time bomb for Justin Trudeau’s government, which has not been able to get a handle on the problem. The root of the matter is a gaping loophole in the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, which does not allow people arriving from the United States to claim protection at an official Canadian port of entry. They can, however, claim protection once they’re already on Canadian soil. That’s the incentive for entering illegally.
In the past few years this trickle of asylum-seekers has turned into a flood, thanks to Facebook and other modern communication networks. They tend to be sympathetically portrayed by the media and the immigration lobby as “refugees” from Donald Trump’s cruel immigration crackdown, who will face deportation back to unspeakable hellholes if they aren’t accepted here. But many, if not most, are clearly economic migrants whose chance of obtaining immigration status is low. Recently, the majority of border-crossers at Roxham are Nigerians, some of whom got here by getting visitor visas to the U.S. and coming straight from airports in New York to the Quebec border. Many have already moved to Toronto.
Economic migrants who try to claim asylum have nothing to lose. Their chance of gaining immigration status may be zilch, but their chance of being accepted as refugee claimants is much better. Overall, refugee claims from Nigerians last year had a success rate of nearly 50 per cent. And there’s more good news. The number of deportations has fallen sharply in recent years – which means that even failed refugee claimants may be able to stay in Canada for quite a while to come.
The immigration lobby wants the Safe Third Country Agreement ripped up, so that anyone would be eligible to make an asylum claim at any official border port of entry – a change that would overwhelm us with refugee claims. Hardliners, such as immigration critic Michelle Rempel, want the loophole closed by having the entire border declared an official border crossing. The Liberals have not proposed a solution. Essentially, they want everyone to believe that everything is working more or less fine.
But it’s not. And people know it. As my colleague John Ibbitson has written, the border crisis is a huge vulnerable spot for Mr. Trudeau’s Liberal government. If they can’t show they’re in charge of our borders, they’ll pay for it in the next election.
We are one of the most immigrant-accepting countries in the world. We’ve gladly taken in tens of thousands of Syrian refugees. But we don’t like being played for suckers. And that’s the way this feels.