All three national political parties, and a majority of Canadians, support high levels of immigration, and the multicultural matrix through which these new arrivals integrate into the Canadian fabric. All of this could be at risk.
Last year, more than 20,000 people entered Canada from the United States by avoiding regular crossings, where they would have been turned back. If the first four months of 2018 are any indication, the number this year could reach 60,000, which would threaten to overwhelm existing settlement services in Ontario and Quebec.
These are not conventional refugees. Some are migrants who fear being deported from the United States. Some are arriving in the United States on visas, and then heading straight for Canada. This is wrong.
But the Liberal government is playing down a situation that could soon become a crisis.
Unless Ottawa can re-establish control over the border, the public could lose confidence in the government and, far worse, in the immigration system itself.
In recent days, we learned that the Canada Border Services Agency wants to construct temporary housing units for more than 500 irregular crossers.
The Conservatives call the housing “a refugee camp” and blasted the secretiveness of the operation.
“I’m not sure any Canadian would think that this is an acceptable response,” Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel declared, according to The Canadian Press.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale dismissed the refugee-camp label as “misleading,” because “most irregular crossers do not spend long in custody before being released.” This will not reassure people.
Previous waves of new arrivals from the United States originated in Somalia and Haiti. This year, people appear to be arriving in the United States from Nigeria, and then heading for the Canadian border. There are also fears that Hondurans at risk of being deported from the United States might also seek shelter in Canada.
Does the Conservative proposal − that the entire border be declared a point of entry under the Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the United Sates − have merit? This would allow officials to apprehend and deport anyone crossing the border, regardless of where they crossed. The Liberals say such a proposal is unworkable and dangerous because migrants would seek riskier crossings to avoid detention. What else could be done? Is it within the law to expedite the claims of border-crossers, reject those claims and return them to the United States, counting on the grapevine to send the message that seeking refuge in Canada is no longer an option?
That sounds cruel, but even crueller is forcing legitimate refugee claimants to languish overseas because the system has been overwhelmed by queue-jumpers.
Cruellest of all would be to close the Canadian border to immigrants and refugees entirely, because the public loses confidence in the ability of government to control the system. Nativist populists have come to power in the United States and Europe for exactly that reason. Canada is not immune to such demagogues.
The goal here is not to keep people from coming to Canada − quite the opposite. Canada’s future depends on bringing in hundreds of thousands of people each year to fill job vacancies, to innovate and invest, to make Canada stronger and wealthier and even more tolerant and diverse.
If we lose that openness, we lose our future. This is what the people crossing into Canada in hopes of gaming the system are putting at risk. Yes, it doesn’t help that the Trump administration appears uninterested in co-operating on border security. But ultimately, this is a Canadian problem and it’s up to the Canadian government to solve it.
It feels as though the Liberal plate is overflowing with difficulties, these days. Despite many months of talks, there is still no renewed North American free-trade agreement. The May 31 deadline for persuading Kinder Morgan not to walk away from the Trans Mountain pipeline project is fast approaching. The refugee-claimant situation at the border is getting worse instead of better. If Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford wins the Ontario election, Canada’s largest province may pull out of the national plan to fight global warming by taxing carbon.
More than anything else, Canadians expect their government to manage the store. If voters become convinced that the Liberals can’t handle the job, they will look for someone who can.