Montreal·Audio

'The law is there and it's being applied,' Ralph Goodale says of RCMP's handling of asylum seekers

A day after Tony Clement hung up on Mike Finnerty, Public ​Safety Minister Ralph Goodale appeared on the show to talk about the surge in illegal crossings at the U.S.-Canada border.

A day after Tony Clement, public safety minister talks illegal border crossings on CBC Daybreak

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale was on Daybreak on Wednesday, a day after public safety critic Tony Clement. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The RCMP is following the law in its handling of the growing number of asylum seekers turning up at the border, Public ​Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Wednesday.

"The notion that somehow the RCMP or CBSA are not enforcing the law is just completely wrong. The law is there and it's being applied," Goodale told CBC Daybreak host Mike Finnerty.

"When a person crosses the border, their obligation is to apprehend them and take them to the appropriate customs officials for processing. There are specific rules that apply and those are being enforced."

Goodale made the comments a day after public safety critic Tony Clement told Finnerty that Ottawa needs to provide Mounties with more resources and ensure they "enforce the law" at the border. 

Clement hung up after being pressed on what exactly he would like to see done, and later took to Twitter in criticism of CBC. 

Goodale made a nod to the controversy at the end of the interview, telling Finnerty: "Very nice to talk to you, and I didn't hang up."

Goodale also said the government has no plans to suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement, which has led some asylum seekers to avoid regular points of entry to Canada.

The agreement, adopted in 2004, restricts refugee claims from people entering Canada via its official land borders with the U.S. to only those with family in Canada and unaccompanied minors, among a few other exceptions.

RCMP officers assist a family as they walk across the U.S.-Canada border. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

Here is a transcript of the interview, which has been edited for clarity.


MF: Can I ask you first if you agree with the Official Opposition that those crossing the border on foot to make a refugee claim are doing so illegally?

RG: The laws of Canada provide ports of entry where people are intended to make a crossing, where all the facilities and personnel and so forth are located. The reality is we have a very long border and about 120 ports of entry over several thousand kilometres of border. Physically people can cross in other locations. In doing that, they are not following the specified legal procedure. But in the law of Canada and in the international laws and conventions that we are in adherence to, it's very clear that if a person presents themselves in Canada however they cross the border, and they claim refugee status, there is a recognized procedure that clicks into place, including from a safety point of view, they are subject to apprehension by the RCMP and they are presented to the immigration and refugee board for a determination of their status.

MF: But still allowed to cross the border, and the point Tony Clement makes, people could cross in all sorts of places but in reality they are crossing in the same places, around Emerson, Manitoba and south of the border here, near Lacolle, on a certain road. The media knows where the road is, the RCMP are actually there, they know what's going on. If you say that it's not following legal procedures, then why are they letting them cross?

RG: The RCMP are dealing with physical circumstances that they are confronted with. People in apparently distressful situations are crossing the Canadian border. Between ports of entry the jurisdiction is with the RCMP. When a person crosses the border, their obligation is to apprehend them and take them to the appropriate customs officials for processing. There are specific rules that apply and those are being enforced. The notion that somehow the RCMP or CBSA are not enforcing the law is just completely wrong. The law is there and it's being applied.

MF: Tony Clement says, "We should not have a situation where they have already crossed the imaginary line between our two countries." Is it possible not to have that situation in the current circumstances? Or is there anything you can do to stop them?

RG: Mr. Clement seems to be sort of denying reality. The fact of the matter is people present themselves as they cross the border. When they cross the border then Canada has to deal with the situation. You asked him yesterday, or he was asked in the media scrums, what would he do to prevent those border crossings at irregular points? Would he forcibly stop them from crossing? I don't think he went that far but that was kind of the implication in his failure to answer your question.

MF: Sure, he was treading a thin line. But the thing is, minister, that this influx of people crossing the border on foot makes a significant number of Canadians uneasy for a lot of different reasons. Do you see it as a problem that needs to be fixed?

RG: Well, first of all let's keep the numbers in perspective. It is true that over the last several years the number of irregular border crosses and people presenting with asylum claims has been rising. In the long haul, the number is actually lower now than it was eight or ten years ago –

MF: Are you saying it's not a problem currently?

RG: If you go back a decade, you'll find much higher numbers. The reality is we need to scrutinize this very closely, as the CBSA is doing, in partnership with the RCMP and the immigration department and their provincial colleagues with immigration and policing authorities. They are following it very carefully. They have internally reallocated resources within CBSA and within the RCMP to deal with the larger numbers that they are facing on the ground. If they believe that they are facing a situation that cannot be dealt with by their internal allocation of resources I'm sure they will let the government know and we will have to respond to that. This is an evolving situation that they will continue to monitor very carefully.

MF: Why is it fair that asylum seekers can cross into Canada on foot and potentially remain in the country when there are refugee claimants who have been waiting overseas for two and three years, many of them sponsored by groups of private citizens here in Montreal, incredibly frustrated that they can't bring them over? Why is it fair for these asylum seekers to jump the queue?

RG: In terms of global migration in the last number of years, there are large number of unfairnesses that people around the world are facing. We are facing probably now the biggest dislocation and migration of people since the Second World War. This presents huge challenges in terms of border procedures, in terms of immigration and refugee policies, in terms of how you settle people who have been so disrupted in their lives, how you deal with the massive numbers of people in refugee camps around the world –

MF: And they are following the rules. They are sitting over there for literally two years and more.

RG: It's a huge challenge, in terms of humanity and the law and procedure. But you wouldn't be making the lives of those people overseas in distress any better by increasing or accelerating the distress of those who turned over at the border. Two wrongs don't make a right. It's a huge challenge not just for Canada but for the whole world.

MF: There have been some terrible stories on the border, particularly in Manitoba, where it's not quite as quick a trip from one side to the other. If you lifted the Safe Third Country Agreement rule, then you could stop them from risking their health. Why not do that?

RG: My colleague the minister of immigration has determined that there not any basis for the termination of that agreement and it's not subject to change.

MF: Is the U.S. a safe third country for someone from Somalia or Yemen, when we've seen the kind of executive order issued by Donald Trump?

RG: The department of immigration has no basis upon which to change the premises of the agreement. What we need to make sure of, is that on the Canadian side of the border, when people present themselves through the regular channels or the irregular challenges, that we deal with them fairly and honourable, according to Canadian and international law. And you noted earlier the danger that people faced coming across the open fields in the northern US toward the Manitoba border, you would also have noticed in the media coverage the very helpful response from RCMP and CBSA officers as people crossed that border and the very generous response of people in Emerson and Lacolle and elsewhere. It's that humanitarian image of Canada is one that speaks well of our country and the basic human instincts of Canadians. 

MF: OK, but to be clear, for now the government of Canada does not see the radical change in posture south of the border regarding refugees as a basis to change the Safe Third Country Agreement. 

RG: There is no basis at the present time upon which to change that agreement.

MF: OK, minister, thanks for your time.

RG: Very nice to talk to you, and I didn't hang up.

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