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Opinion Ottawa’s response to asylum seekers undercuts the system

Brian Lee Crowley is the managing director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

In a clear assault on the integrity of the Canadian immigration system, the number of asylum seekers evading standard border controls and admitting themselves to Canada continues at disquieting levels. Authorities in border towns such as Cornwall, Ont., and Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que., are now having to set up camps to accommodate the influx of literally thousands of people this month alone, people who would have been turned back at any border crossing by this country's officials.

The Prime Minister's response to date has been puzzling to say the least. Just this past weekend, when replying to media questions about the increase in asylum seekers illegally entering the country, Justin Trudeau reportedly sought to reassure Canadians thus: "That continues to be why Canadians are positive toward immigration, positive toward diversity because they know that we always apply the rules and the laws that make Canada proud and strong."

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Surely the Prime Minister understands, however, that the issue is not whether Canada is applying its laws, but whether the real purpose of those laws is being frustrated. It is, after all, the purpose behind the law that has the support of Canadians and that is now being flouted by the sobering increases in illegal entries.

The purpose of the law is quite straightforward. It is to create a principles-based system to ensure that people who seek to come to Canada do so in an orderly way in accordance with a set of fair and reasoned criteria established and applied by Canadians. Canadians support the system because it lets people in in a deeply Canadian way.

That is precisely not what is happening on the border today.

What is happening at the border is we are diverting massive resources to catching thousands of people who have decided to let themselves in, whether Canadians want them or not. And a major part of the cost of this increase in rule-breakers is borne by those refugees whom Canada chooses to admit under the rules.

The people tossing their roller bags across the border are queue-jumpers. Moreover, they are queue-jumpers who know that if they showed up at a legitimate border crossing and applied for refugee status, they would be immediately turned away because they don't qualify. They are obliged to apply for this status in the first safe country they enter, in this case the United States. It cannot be emphasized enough that these illegal border-crossings are an undisguised attempt to evade Canada's rules.

Moreover, it has long been Canada's policy that refugees are selected according to a complex process in which we work with international agencies such as the UNHCR to identify, in our deeply Canadian way, those candidates most in need of resettlement and who have the greatest chance of integrating with Canadian society.

These people are usually far from Canada and lack the means to get here, unlike the queue-jumpers from the United States. A major increase in queue-jumpers diverts vast financial, administrative, security, police and judicial resources from dealing with more important issues, including those of selecting, transporting and settling legitimate and far needier refugees chosen by Canada.

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Furthermore, while the Prime Minister wants to leave the impression that these illegal entrants will be dealt with according to the law, that has not been Canada's experience to date. A major motivation behind the illegal crossings is that the courts have ruled that people turned back at the official border crossings under the Safe Third Country provisions do not enter the Canadian system, with its extensive rights of appeal. By entering illegally, these asylum seekers do make their way into that system, which can take years to work through, establishing themselves in Canada in the meantime.

In practice, some of those whose claims are eventually turned down do not leave the country; they merely slip underground, the very antithesis of the kind of rules-based immigration system Canadians say they want. The number of deportations of people in Canada illegally has been falling precipitously in recent years, as has the number of arrests of people in such irregular circumstances. According to the authorities, this is not because the problem is declining, but because they have fewer resources to respond.

The Prime Minister is now essentially issuing an open invitation to more queue-jumpers to follow the trailblazers already here, compounding the damage to the orderly system Canadians rightly prize, and abetting the kind of lawlessness which has so undermined the legitimacy of immigration in the minds of many Americans. It is a dangerous game.

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