Jenny Kwan, MP

Member of Parliament, Vancouver East

On Irregular Border Crossings

for 15 months now I have been raising the issue around irregular border crossings in this House, at committee, and in the public. As members may remember, it started with your granting my request for an emergency debate on this very subject in January 2017.

Since that time, we have seen the influx in irregular border crossings and asylum claims. Back on April 10, 2017, at the immigration and citizenship committee, I moved a motion for the committee to study the issue of irregular crossings. Unfortunately, the Liberal members of the committee saw fit to adjourn debate on my motion repeatedly. Not only did they want to study the issue: they refused to even have a debate on the need to study the situation.

Fast-forward to April 17, 2018. I once again tried to advance the need to study the issue at committee. Again I was impeded from doing so. It was not until last Tuesday that I was able, despite attempts to shut me down, to make mention of a motion I would like to see pass at committee. That motion was for the committee to look at the impact of the increase in asylum claims on the RCMP, CBSA, IRCC, the provinces, and the NGOs that provide settlement services in areas where these crossings are more frequent, and for the study to hear from both the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

Note that my motion to study the issue differs from that of the Conservatives. It does not aim to misrepresent a situation, create fear, or further inflame anti-refugee sentiments. Since the Trump administration took office, I have called for the Canadian government to condemn Trump's discriminatory anti-immigrant policies and to work with the international community to devise a plan to address the fact that we now have a powerful leader in the free world—our next-door neighbour, no less—openly targeting the immigrant and refugee community, striking fear in their hearts and minds, and creating an unstable environment for their well-being.

It is truly a shame that many developed nations, including the United States, have seen a significant rise in anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rhetoric and policy implementation. As a result, despite an unprecedented need for refugee resettlement, many of the world's wealthiest nations are turning their backs on people in desperate need.

I am proud to say that Canadians have gone against this trend, but their compassion and humanitarianism cannot be taken for granted. That is why I first brought this issue up in this place over a year ago. We must ensure the integrity of our system is world class and that Canadians trust it. That is why provinces must not be left to fend for themselves.

In 2017, we saw 20,593 individuals make an inland asylum claim through an irregular crossing and 22,140 individuals make an asylum claim through a regular border crossing. That is a total of 42,733. In 2018, so far we have seen 6,373 irregular crossings. The vast majority of them—5,609, to be exact—crossed over in Quebec. Even though about 40% of them say that they are planning to settle elsewhere in Canada, there is no denying the impact is significant for the province to manage. That is why we need to have leadership from the federal government.

Globally, the United Nations estimates there are over 65 million people forcibly displaced. Of those, 22.5 million are refugees and 50% of the refugees are under the age of 18. These levels are unprecedented. To put everything into perspective Canada's resettlement effort contributions to the global stage, including the Syrian refugee initiative, is only 0.1%. Before anyone jumps up and down and shouts for us to close the borders, we should keep these figures in mind.

That does not mean to say that Canada should not seriously study the issue and devise a plan. The New Democrats have been calling on the Liberals to develop a comprehensive, durable solution that will protect the rights of asylum seekers, maintain the integrity of our system, and ensure this influx does not result in a strain on border communities. I am sad to say that instead of a proactive approach, the Liberals have resorted to a reactionary approach, taking action only when absolutely forced to. This failure to lead is giving oxygen to those who want to misrepresent and fan the fears of division. In fact, the Conservatives' motion before us today positions themselves as champions for exactly that kind of an approach.

To be clear, I support the call for a study, but the deliberate words chosen to misrepresent the situation in the Conservatives' motion is not an approach I support. At the right time, I will move an amendment to the motion, but before I do that, let us fully examine the Conservative motion.

First, on the use of the word “illegal” in the motion, there is no question the Conservatives are intentionally labelling irregular crossings as “illegal” crossings. That is plain wrong. To be clear, asylum seekers crossing at unofficial border crossing are making irregular crossings, not illegal crossings. Crossing the border at a point not designated as a port of entry is not an offence under the Criminal Code. On the contrary, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act states specifically in section 133 that:

A person who has claimed refugee protection, and who came to Canada directly or indirectly from the country in respect of which the claim is made, may not be charged with an offence under section 122, paragraph 124(1)(a) or section 127 of this Act or under section 57, paragraph 340(c) or section 354, 366, 368, 374 or 403 of the Criminal Code...

The regulations for the act also state in subsection 27(2):

...a person who seeks to enter Canada at a place other than a port of entry must appear without delay for examination at the port of entry that is nearest to that place.

That is exactly what is happening.

Just so everyone is clear on the process, after crossing irregularly, individuals are taken into custody. They are questioned, and their identity is checked. Once cleared by the RCMP, they are handed over to the CBSA for processing. They are interviewed about their personal history and how they got to Canada. They are fingerprinted, photographed, and asked to fill out paperwork. A background check is done. If the person is deemed admissible, their case is transferred to the IRB to adjudicate their refugee claim. No one is jumping the queue, and individuals found not to have met what is prescribed to be a refugee under Canadian law, his or her claim would be rejected by the IRB. That is how the system works and how it should work. These asylum seekers are following Canadian law.

I was deeply troubled by how quickly the Minister of Immigration capitulated to aggressive questioning from the Conservatives at committee on March 19 about the use of the word “illegal” to describe irregular crossings. In fact, he said he was “happy” to use that term. It is as if the Minister of Immigration is ignorant of sections 117 and 133 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. He is the minister responsible for the act. If the issues were not so serious, it would make a good joke.

Second, the motion raises the issue of gaps in screening. The way in which the motion is worded, one would think every irregular border crosser has failed the security screening. To be clear, with the influx in irregular crossings, the government should address gaps in screening where they may exist. However, we should take care not to smear all asylum seekers with the same brush.

Currently only 1% of all asylum seekers, regular and irregular, are detained for security reasons. Officials will use extensive information-sharing with allies around the world to determine an individual's admissibility to Canada. Individuals could be inadmissible for security reasons if they had committed serious crimes, or for other financial or health reasons. People who are deemed inadmissible must leave Canada and may be detained pending removal. That is the current process. Everything is done by the book. To suggest otherwise is simply wrong.

Third, on the point of the Prime Minister's #WelcomeToCanada tweet, when I saw that, I was proud to be a Canadian. The issue here is not the sentiment behind the tweet, but the fact that the Prime Minister's rhetoric does not match his actions.

The Liberals have failed to ensure adequate resources are provided to the provinces and agencies working on the ground to deal with the influx of irregular crossings. In fact, the federal government provides no resources to NGOs in support of inland refugee claimants. Provinces and agencies should not be abandoned by the federal government when it comes to inland asylum seekers. The federal government needs to take a leadership role and be a true partner with them.

The NDP is therefore calling for the government to match its words with action. Let us talk the talk and walk the walk. The vast majority of Canadians take pride in Canada's compassionate stance in welcoming refugees to Canada. We saw that through the Syrian refugee initiative, when Canadians overwhelmingly stepped up to volunteer and to privately sponsor refugees to Canada. Even today, Canadians continue to call on the government to lift the cap on the privately sponsored refugees to Canada. The failure of the Liberals to match actions with words will only give oxygen to those who want to instill division and fear in the hearts and minds of Canadians. This needs to stop.

Fourth, the Conservatives suggest that this is somehow a loophole in the safe third country agreement. They are wrong. The Conservatives are taking a page out of the Trump discriminatory anti-refugee rhetoric by advocating for Canada to apply the safe third country agreement to the entire border, thereby effectively erecting an invisible wall on Canada's border. At a time when there is an unprecedented number of people in the world who have been forcibly displaced, Canada must continue to do its part.

To put things into perspective, even with the Syrian refugee initiative, Canada's resettlement effort to this global crisis is only 0.1% of the total need. Instead of pandering to the alt-right, the Liberals need to stand strong and reaffirm that Canada is a fair and compassionate country that respects and celebrates our diversity. Canada can afford to continue to be a beacon of hope on the international stage.

For those who are wondering where the money will come from, if Canada closes the stock option loopholes for the ultra-rich and shuts down access to tax havens, we can reinvest those lost revenues to the most vulnerable. To show leadership, the Liberals should not allow this hateful and divisive approach of pitting the vulnerable against the vulnerable to win the day. Canada needs to show leadership and live up to its obligations under the international law as signatories to the 1951 UN refugee convention and its 1967 protocol.

When the Prime Minister on November 23 took a dramatic departure from his original #WelcomeToCanada tweet and started to parrot anti-refugee rhetoric by stating, “Would-be Canadians need more than just a desire for a better economic future if they expect to be granted refugee status in this country”, I was truly ashamed. By insinuating that refugees are trying to cheat the system and jumping the queue is the textbook far-right anti-refugee rhetoric and a level that I did not expect the Prime Minister would stoop too.

If the Prime Minister can reduce himself to that level of rhetoric, no wonder the Conservatives are now suggesting that we close our border to irregular crossings with an invisible wall by declaring the entire border an authorized port of entry. No doubt the Conservatives are inspired by the Trump's overblown obsession to build a wall.

When the Conservatives suggest that irregular border crossings are a loophole in the safe third country agreement, they are deliberating misleading Canadians. Sections 117 and 133 of IRPA clearly show that assertion is false.

The New Democrats and experts agree that the problem on orderly crossings is the safe third country agreement. For over a year now, I have been calling on the government to invoke article 10 of the safe third country agreement and to provide written notice to the United States that we are suspending the agreement.

If the safe third country agreement is suspended, asylum seekers can make safe, orderly crossings at designated ports of entry. This will protect the rights of the asylum seekers, provide safety and stability to Canada's border communities most impacted by this influx, and allow for the government agencies, such as the RCMP, CBSA, IRCC, and the IRB, to strategically deploy personnel and resources necessary to establish border infrastructure instead of this ad hoc approach. This is the rational, reasonable response to this situation.

Furthermore, immigration is in the federal jurisdiction. The federal government has a responsibility to provide leadership on this issue, and to ensure that the situation does not negatively impact provincial governments and services.

Quebec has seen the overwhelming majority of irregular border crossings. The situation is having an impact on its budgets and service provision. That is not right. When the Quebec government reached out for assistance, the Minister of Immigration opted to chastise it instead. That is not acceptable.

In addition to suspending the safe third country agreement, the NDP has long been calling on the government to provide the needed resources to provincial governments impacted, government agencies, such as the CBSA, RCMP, IRCC, and IRB, and resettlement agencies on the ground.

It is unacceptable to pit vulnerable groups against vulnerable groups and to allow for an asylum claim influx to negatively impact Canadians' access to vital social and health services. Quebec should not have to fight the federal government for resources it needs to help with the influx. Its request should have been met immediately.

Aside from the support for the provinces, the government also needs to show leadership and ensure that the IRB has the appropriate resources.

I wholeheartedly agree that the government has mishandled the situation, but I cannot support this motion. The Liberals are ignoring the situation and the Conservatives are engaging in fearmongering hyperbole to stoke anti-refugee sentiment. Neither party is approaching this situation responsibly. Suspending the safe third country agreement is the way to go forward.

At this point, I would like to move an amendment to the motion: That the motion be amended by: (a) replacing the words “crisis created by the influx of thousands of illegal border crossers travelling across our southern border between ports of entry, that the agencies responsible for dealing with this crisis have found gaps in security screening for newly arrived refugee claimants,” with the words “situation created by the influx of thousands of irregular border crossers travelling across our southern border between ports of entry, that the agencies responsible for dealing with this influx should address gaps in screening where they may be found”; (b) replacing the words “irresponsibility of tweeting #WelcometoCanada to those seeking to enter Canada through illegal means” with the words “irresponsibility of tweeting #WelcometoCanada to those seeking to enter Canada through irregular means without following rhetoric with action to maintain the integrity of Canada's asylum system;” and (c) deleting all of the words in subparagraph (d)(i), and substituting the following: “address the influx of people irregularly entering Canada from the United States, through the suspension of the safe third country agreement.”

I hope my amendment will be accepted so that we can have a rational debate about the impact of irregular crossings without fearmongering and determine what actions should be taken to address the issues without violating Canada's international commitments.