Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to finalize a landmark deal with U.S. President Joe Biden in Ottawa on Friday, which would close a loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement and bring thousands more Central American migrants to Canada through legal pathways.
Government sources cautioned that while the two countries are on track to finalize the deal during Mr. Biden’s trip to Ottawa, the fine print is still being hammered out and confirmation will only come Friday.
As it stands, they said the two countries expect to extend the Safe Third Country Agreement to 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.
The Globe and Mail is not identifying the sources because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the agreement.
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, another source said.
Those spots will be new and will not take away from the number of immigrants and refugees that Canada has already said it will accept, two sources said. They were unable to clarify whether the 15,000 additional people would come through immigration, refugee or temporary foreign worker pathways.
Mr. Biden arrived in Ottawa with first lady Jill Biden on Thursday evening in their first official visit since moving into the White House. Progress on the thorny issue of irregular migration is just one of a litany of issues he will discuss with Mr. Trudeau, beginning with a less formal gathering Thursday night and then in two meetings on Friday morning and afternoon. The President will deliver a speech to Parliament at 2 p.m.
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A deal on irregular migration would mark 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.
But until this week, the federal government had been downcast on the prospect for a resolution. At the January cabinet retreat in Hamilton, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said he didn’t expect a deal to be part of Mr. Biden’s visit to Canada. The mood changed significantly this week with Mr. Trudeau signalling a deal was in the offing.
One source said the White House became more motivated to find a solution to the migration issue because it began to see an increase in people using the loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement to cross from Canada to the U.S. Those migrants have primarily been Mexican nationals, who can enter Canada without visas.
Radio-Canada first reported Thursday that the two governments had reached a deal. Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos then confirmed it to reporters on Parliament Hill.
“It is very good news,” he said. “It’s been months, I would even say years that Mr. Trudeau and his cabinet have been working very hard on this, and I understand there will be details very soon.”
While Canada saw nearly 40,000 migrants cross from the U.S. irregularly last year, America saw between 100,000 and 200,000 irregular migrants at its southern border each month.
Migration is just one topic in a hefty agenda that the Prime Minister and President will tackle in their quick succession of meetings. The Bidens will leave Ottawa after a dinner Friday evening. The President arrived in Ottawa with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm – underscoring the emphasis both countries want to put on the clean-energy transition in their talks.
On that count, a separate source said Ms. Granholm and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson will have a separate bilateral meeting on Friday before joining the broader talks with Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Biden.
On the energy and clean-transition files, the source said, the two countries want to make progress on supply chains for critical minerals and nuclear fuels, further their work toward a clean electricity grid by 2035, and ensure there is North America-wide infrastructure for zero-emissions vehicles.
The U.S. is also asking Canada to spend more faster in modernization of the continent’s air defences and play a bigger role in addressing the humanitarian, political and security crises plaguing Haiti. Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly will meet her counterpart, Mr. Blinken, for dinner on Thursday evening ahead of their Friday meetings with the President and Prime Minister, one source said.
American media have reported that the U.S. wants Canada to lead a mission to Haiti but American officials told a briefing with reporters Wednesday that such a mission would require domestic Haitian support and the countries can use other mechanisms to help Haiti. They also acknowledged that the two countries need to learn the lessons from past interventions in Haiti.
The officials said Canada and the U.S. can help by strengthening the Haitian national police and deploying humanitarian and development assistance.
In an interview with The Globe’s podcast The Decibel, former governor-general Michaëlle Jean, who was born in Haiti, said “doing nothing is not a viable option” but she said America’s past occupation has left bitter memories. She said Canada could do more to help the understaffed and underpaid police force.