Petition calls on federal government to act on migrant crisis

A national petition launched by a Calgary lawyer is calling on the federal government to temporarily suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement.

Canadians for Welcoming Refugees wants federal government to suspend Safe Third Country Agreement

Family members are helped into Canada by RCMP officers along the U.S.-Canada border near Hemmingford, Que., on Friday. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

A national petition launched by a Calgary lawyer is calling on the federal government to temporarily suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement.

The 2004 Canada-United States agreement requires refugees to make an asylum claim in the first possible country they reach. Under the agreement, Canada is unable to consider asylum for anyone who enters from the U.S., which is deemed a safe country in which to apply for asylum.

The agreement has recently been linked to an increasing number of people trying to illegally cross the border from the U.S. into Canada.

"The situation has changed due to immigration and refugee policy changes in the States, as evidenced by the situation on ground with refugee claimants not feeling that they will be able to go through a fair process in the U.S. and are seeking to enter into Canada," said Jeremy Barretto, a lawyer with the group behind the petition, Canadians for Welcoming Refugees.

Migrants risking lives to cross border

Hundreds of refugees in the U.S. have been braving long walks in freezing winter temperatures to cross Canada outside of regular border crossings.

Barretto says as of Feb. 17 this year, 80 individuals have crossed Manitoba's border on foot and he's concerned more people will risk injury or death if the situation isn't resolved.

"Every person is important and we should make sure that people who are fleeing persecution are welcome to make a claim and go through a fair process in Canada," he said. 

The request is supported by over 200 Canadian law professors and refugee law experts, and sponsored by Liberal MP Darshan Kang.

Under the agreement, it can be suspended for three months, and be extended another three by either party. The group is asking the government to merely suspend the agreement and monitor the situation. 

"This is a non-partisan issue, this is about helping people and protecting people who are fleeing persecutions, so I think there will be much more advocacy to come," he said.

'This is, in fact, illegal,' says opposition

Calgary MP Michelle Rempel agrees that something must be done to keep migrants safe, but feels it must be done in a way that protects the integrity of the immigration system. 

"We shouldn't be glossing over the fact that this is, in fact, illegal," she said.

"Both our countries, the United States and Canada, have systems by which people's asylum claims are evaluated. We need to rely on those systems to work."

Rempel is the opposition critic for immigration, refugees and citizenship. She says those asylum-seekers are putting themselves at risk.

Rempel says there has to be a team effort between all political parties and the media to communicate to people that there are proper, legal and safe ways to enter Canada.

"I grew up in Winnipeg, and the first concern that I have is this is a very unsafe activity," she said. "It's very cold, there's a lot of risk involved here and people shouldn't be doing this."