The renegotiated Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement is expected to go into effect at midnight Friday, meaning migrants crossing the border at unofficial points of entry can be turned away within hours of the Prime Minister and President announcing the deal in Ottawa.
A source with direct knowledge of the plan disclosed the implementation details to The Globe and Mail in advance of the formal announcement from Justin Trudeau and Joe Biden Friday afternoon.
The Globe is not identifying the source who discussed the details of the plan because they were not authorized to speak publicly on it.
Mr. Biden arrived in Ottawa Thursday for his first official visit since becoming president. He and the Prime Minister are expected to tackle a hefty agenda in two meetings Friday before the President makes an address to Parliament and then takes part in a joint news conference with Mr. Trudeau.
The two leaders want to focus their talks on the economy, climate change and policies to spur a clean energy transition, but concerns about Beijing’s election interference and increasingly aggressive stance toward the West risk overshadowing that agenda.
In a symbolic acknowledgment of that, Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were in the House of Commons gallery during the President’s parliamentary address as guests of the Prime Minister. The two were arbitrarily detained by China in 2018 and only released after being held in inhumane conditions for more than 1,000 days.
In his speech to Parliament, the President made the pitch that vast American subsidies aimed at spurring the clean transition in the U.S. will be mutually beneficial for companies north of the border.
Last year the U.S. earmarked US$369-billion in tax breaks and other incentives to green the economy and slash emissions, in the Inflation Reduction Act, or IRA. Canadian business groups have warned the hefty American subsidies risk their ability to compete, and the federal government has already pledged more measures in the March 28 budget.
The Associated Press reported Friday that the leaders will also announce that Canada will escalate its timeline for military upgrades to the North American Aerospace Defense Command.
The news would mark a concession from Canada. Ahead of the President’s visit, sources had said Canada believes its previous investments to modernize the dated air defences were significant.
Last year, Canada announced $4.9-billion over six years to modernize North America’s air defences. Ahead of Mr. Biden’s visit, though, senior U.S. administration officials had said threats from China, like the case of an alleged Chinese spy balloon that entered U.S. airspace and the discovery of Chinese monitoring buoys in the Arctic last fall, justify Canada spending more, faster.
The Globe and Mail reported details of the renegotiated Safe Third Country Agreement Thursday. The deal marks a significant achievement for Mr. Trudeau. His government has come under increasing pressure to address the issue from both the Opposition Conservatives and Quebec Premier François Legault, whose province is home to the largest influx of irregular migrants, along Roxham Road.
Sources tell The Globe the Safe Third Country Agreement will cover the entire border, including land and waterways. The change will mean that each country can turn away asylum seekers no matter where they cross on the border. Currently, migrants crossing at unofficial points are allowed to make refugee claims.
As part of the settlement, the White House asked Canada to help ease the much more significant pressures it faces with irregular migration on its southern border by accepting 15,000 more migrants from places such as Haiti and Central America, sources said.
The Associated Press reported that renegotiated policy will apply to people without U.S. or Canadian citizenship or residency permits who are caught within 14 days of crossing the border between the two countries.
But the change will only make the situation even more dangerous and precarious for asylum seekers, experts say.
Closing down routes like Roxham Road will only push asylum seekers toward more dangerous, irregular routes, said Christina Clark-Kazak, a University of Ottawa professor who studies forced migration. It may also push them toward the use of human smugglers, to help identify routes of entry.
It also disincentivizes asylum seekers from making a claim – preventing the government from being able to monitor or track their arrival and movements.
“So there might be fewer numbers of people coming in,” she said, “but those who do come in are basically going to be invisible in the system.”
This will make those migrants even more vulnerable to exploitation – to exploitative labour or the potential of exploitation from traffickers, she said.