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opinion

It’s easy to lampoon Donald Trump’s border wall strategy as an ineffective piece of demagoguery, but the real trick is to top it. That’s why Conservative MPs Michelle Rempel and Pierre Paul-Hus deserve special recognition.

They’ve come up with a cunning plan to stop border migrants from crossing into Canada that’s quick, simple and ridiculous.

It’s supposedly a proposal to stop the flow of thousands of people who are coming into Canada from the United States using back routes in between official border posts – many by taking a cab down upstate New York’s Roxham Road and walking into Quebec.

If those folks made their asylum claim at an official border crossing, they’d be turned back under the terms of a Canada-U.S. agreement to make their claim in the United States. But that agreement only covers official points of entry, not the people who crossed in between those points. So asylum seekers who want to stay in Canada cross at places such as Roxham Road.

Last week, Ms. Rempel proposed a simple solution: Declare the entire border, every inch of its 8,891 kilometres, to be an official entry post.

Genius! Suddenly, the Canada-U.S agreement that applies only to official border posts will apply everywhere. The U.S. government – which doesn’t want to take back the people who cross between border posts – will throw up its hands, outfoxed by savvy Canadian manoeuvring. “You’ve got us,” they will say, dutifully sending buses to pick up asylum seekers. “There’s nothing we can do.”

You might suspect it wouldn’t be that simple. It wouldn’t, of course, because the United States can tear up the whole agreement without even flinching.

It’s not a simple issue. Many people will take a chance that they’ll be allowed to stay in Canada and still try to cross. Some worry about U.S. President Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown, such as the wave of Haitians, then Hondurans, who feared losing temporary protected status in the United States. Right now, many are Nigerians who, Canadian officials say, came to the United States on tourist visas.

Police in the United States don’t stop them because they’re not breaking the law. The RCMP can’t stop them till they enter Canada. “What do you want them to do?” Mr. Paul-Hus asked reasonably. Most are arrested, then released to await a refugee hearing.

It’s a hot-button issue. Canadians want them to be treated humanely, but many don’t like them coming into the country through back roads. Politicians have demanded the government stop it, reaching for simple, yet non-sensical solutions.

This week, Parti Québécois Leader Jean-François Lisée suggested a wall of his own, near Roxham Road, apparently not realizing asylum seekers could just cross the border a few kilometres away. Mr. Lisée quickly retracted.

Others have suggested Canada should simply get the United States to change the terms of the 2002 Canada-U.S. agreement, known as the Safe Third Country Agreement, so Canada could turn back asylum seekers who cross the border in between official posts. The problem is that the United States has said no. Stephen Harper’s government asked, but the Barack Obama administration demurred. Mr. Trump’s administration probably isn’t looking to take asylum seekers off Canada’s hands.

Ms. Rempel seems to believe her proposal to declare the whole border an official entry point would force the Americans to accept it.

Aside from the technical complications – regulations to be rewritten and so on – the border works on co-operation. Entry points are mostly agreed locations for two-way crossings. You don’t just spring a 9,000-kilometre change on a friendly neighbour. Even monuments at the border are governed by a boundary commission set up by treaty.

Using silly trickery to try to force the United States to do something they don’t want to agree to isn’t likely to make Americans acquiesce. They’re more likely to tear up the Safe Third Country Agreement. It’s Canada, not the United States, that really wants it. The terms allow either country to suspend it at any time.

That would accomplish one of Ms. Rempel’s goals, because asylum seekers wouldn’t need to cross via back roads. They could just drive up to a border guard to claim asylum, as they did before 2002. But there’d be a lot more of them: Canada sought the Safe Third Country Agreement back in 2002 to reduce the number of asylum seekers coming through the United States. Ms. Rempel’s plan to stop asylum seekers coming via the United States would bring more. It’s not as expensive as a wall, but it’s far more futile.