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The tales emanating from tiny Emerson, Man., get more bleak and depressing by the day.

Asylum-seekers losing fingers to frostbite after trudging hours through waist-deep snow looking for a safe haven in Canada; two-year-olds making the same dead-of-night trips in -20 C weather who are so cold they tell their parents they'd prefer to stop, and die, rather than press on. On the weekend, 22 lost souls emerging from the wilds of Minnesota ended up in the Canadian border town of 700. And there are many who believe this is just the start of a refugee exodus.

Of the three executive orders that U.S. President Donald Trump signed in January around immigration, the one banning entry to the United States of people arriving from seven designated, Muslim-majority countries gained the most notoriety. Two others severely restricting the rights of asylum-seekers received far less attention.

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According to a scathing assessment of these new edicts by Harvard Law School, individuals with viable asylum claims now face a much higher risk of being deported to countries where they face persecution. What also seems certain, say the report's authors, is that the new policies will lead to large-scale detention and the accelerated removal of people without due process. In other words, Mr. Trump has sent a clear message to political refugees in his country: Head for the hills.

Or Canada.

This, as it turns out, is not so simple. More than a decade ago, Canada signed what's known as the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States. The agreement requires refugee claimants to request protection in the first safe country in which they arrive; this is to prevent claimants from going "asylum shopping." In practical terms, what it means is that if a refugee lands in the United States and then tries to go to Canada, border agents are supposed to send them back to the United States.

Consequently, if you were a political refugee trying to escape Donald Trump's new orders you wouldn't attempt to get into Canada through a border staffed by agents where you would likely be detained and returned to the United States, you might instead be tempted to risk life and limb to enter through an unprotected town like Emerson, where you can get comfort, safety and legal aid.

We don't know if those who arrived in the Manitoba village on the weekend did so for this reason. But there seems little doubt that as word spreads throughout the refugee community in the United States about the real-world impact of Mr. Trump's measures, their only option will be Canada. This has some, including more than 200 law professors on both sides of the border, urging Ottawa to temporarily suspend the third-country pact.

"The situation in the U.S. has changed," Sharry Aiken, a Queen's law professor, told me this week. "It can no longer be considered a safe place for many groups of refugees who might have otherwise had a fair crack at staying there. They have justifiable concerns they will be automatically detained, denied right of appeal, and face the prospect of expedited removal."

This puts Ottawa in a difficult spot. Does Prime Minister Justin Trudeau temporarily adjourn the safe third-country accord and risk angering our U.S. neighbours, or does he walk-the-talk about Canada being a refuge for the dispossessed and help these people out?

It seems to me Mr. Trump wouldn't be all that miffed if Canada offered to take hundreds of refugees off his hands. Mr. Trudeau's bigger concern might be the reaction at home. There are a lot of Canadians who feel much like their U.S. neighbours and want to see the influx of refugees into their own country halted; the worry being we don't always know what we're getting.

If Canada suspended the third-country agreement, however, it would no longer be bound to send asylum-seekers arriving from the United States back to face a likely grim and uncertain future. We would have the opportunity to properly vet people who might otherwise be tempted to march through the frigid night to escape the scrutiny of a border guard bound by his rule book.

It would be far preferable to have an orderly process involving refugees from the United States over what we witnessed in Europe last year. Think that couldn't happen in Canada? In Donald Trump's United States, you'd better think again.

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