Skip to main content

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, seen here on March 17, 2020, said intercepted migrants will face additional health checks and be asked to self-isolate.

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Canada’s partial travel ban over COVID-19 will not stop asylum seekers from crossing into the country at unofficial entries, but Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said intercepted migrants will face additional health checks and be asked to self-isolate.

Mr. Blair said border officials will continue to take asylum seekers into custody after they enter Canada irregularly, as they have been, but will also start screening for symptoms of COVID-19 and ask migrants where they have been. The asylum seekers, who would normally be moved to temporary shelter facilities after being processed at the border, will self-isolate for two weeks, like every other person entering Canada.

“Because of the need for the 14-day self-isolation, we are now making separate arrangements for those individuals to be placed in appropriate shelter in order to accommodate the requirement for the period of isolation. We are doing this because we believe it is necessary and in the best interest of keeping all Canadians healthy and safe,” Mr. Blair told reporters at a briefing in Ottawa on Tuesday.

Story continues below advertisement

The latest on the coronavirus: Commons likely to sit again to pass economic response; Ottawa looks to Emergencies Act for more powers to fight pandemic

Coronavirus guide: What you need to know about COVID-19 and its toll around the world

‘Can I know if I have coronavirus without being tested?’ And more coronavirus questions answered by André Picard

More than 57,000 asylum seekers have entered Canada through unauthorized border crossings since 2017, when President Donald Trump announced a crackdown on illegal immigration. The majority of the crossings have occurred at a single entry point along Roxham Road in Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que.

Most of the asylum seekers have been able to remain in Canada through a loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement, which requires Canada and the U.S. to refuse entry to most asylum seekers who arrive at official points of entry along the shared border, as both countries are considered safe for refugees. But since the agreement applies only to those who arrive at official points of entry, asylum seekers can avoid being immediately turned away by crossing between border posts, requiring Canada to process most of their claims.

Maureen Silcoff, president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, said the government struck the right tone by creating a “clear public health policy" for asylum seekers.

“We have certain international legal obligations because we are signed onto the Refugee Convention,” said Ms. Silcoff. “We can take appropriate public health measures while at the same time upholding core Canadian values ... We’ve seen our leadership do this today.”

The Conservatives have been critical of the government’s handling of the irregular border crossings, but, in a Tuesday statement, supported Ottawa’s decision to ensure migrants self-isolate.

However, two top contenders for the Conservative leadership race called on the government to implement stricter measures and turn asylum seekers away at the border amid the outbreak of the virus.

“The government just confirmed they’re allowing illegal border crossings. Instead of turning people away, we’re letting them in and paying for their health care and quarantine. There are concerns about having enough equipment just for our own citizens. This needs to stop now," said Peter MacKay.

Story continues below advertisement

Erin O’Toole called the decision “unacceptable” and said Canada must “secure our border immediately.”

The Liberal government has long tried to balance Canada’s legal obligation to allow people to seek protection at the border with alleviating pressure on the country’s refugee system, which has been taxed by a surge in asylum seekers. Canada has asked the U.S. to consider revamping the 2004 agreement so Canada can turn away more asylum seekers, but the U.S. has not agreed to reopen talks.

The spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 continues, with more cases diagnosed in Canada. The Globe offers the dos and don'ts to help slow or stop the spread of the virus in your community.

Sign up for the Coronavirus Update newsletter to read the day’s essential coronavirus news, features and explainers written by Globe reporters. Sign up

Coronavirus information
Coronavirus information
The Zero Canada Project provides resources to help you manage your health, your finances and your family life as Canada reopens.
Visit the hub

In the interests of public health and safety, our coronavirus news articles are free for anyone to access. However, The Globe depends on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe to globeandmail.com. If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support.

Your subscription helps The Globe and Mail provide readers with critical news at a critical time. Thank you for your continued support. We also hope you will share important coronavirus news articles with your friends and family. In the interest of public health and safety, all our coronavirus news articles are free for anyone to access.

Follow related topics

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies