Hussen floats possible solution to Safe Third Country Agreement loophole

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen tells CBC Power & Politics that having the Safe Third Country Agreement apply to asylum seekers who cross between official ports of entry will be part of the discussions he will have with his his U.S, counterpart, which coupled with biometric data could solve the existing loophole.

Extending agreement to cover whole border and using biometrics could address irregular border crossers

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen will be travelling the U.S. to speak with American officials about the Safe Third Country Agreement. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen says modernizing the Safe Third Country Agreement so that it applies to asylum seekers crossing between official ports of entry will be part of the discussions he has with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in the coming weeks.

"The agreement does not apply between ports of entry, so the discussions would revolve around making sure that we modernize the agreement in a way that makes it applicable between ports of entry," Hussen said in an interview with host Vassy Kapelos on CBC News Network's Power & Politics Thursday.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen tells Power & Politics host Vassy Kapelos that making the Safe Third Country Agreement apply to asylum seekers crossing into Canada between official ports of entry will be part of his discussions with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. 8:18

Hussen said that broadening the 14-year-old agreement's scope, while incorporating the use of biometric data — basically, fingerprints and photographs — could represent a solution to what some see as a gaping loophole in the agreement.

"When the agreement was made 14 years ago, it was based on the principle of making sure that officials from either side at an official port of entry were able to physically see asylum seekers ... to confirm the first country of presence," said Hussen.

"With the use of biometrics, with the more efficient use of information sharing, we are now able to be in a better position ... to establish first country of presence without using line of sight."

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen reveals in what context he discusses the Safe Third Country Agreement with U.S. officials 0:29

Right now, the border pact only applies to asylum seekers who make a claim at an official port of entry. Asylum seekers who cross irregularly into Canada at unofficial border crossings, such as Roxham Road in Quebec, can't be turned away.

If the agreement is applied to the entire Canada-U.S. border and both countries use biometric data as grounds for denying an asylum claim, it wouldn't matter where an asylum seeker crosses the Canada-U.S. border.

The minister's office maintains that Canada is not in formal negotiations with the U.S. on the agreement and the government has only identified issues that it wants to work collaboratively to resolve.

The high-level meeting between Hussen and Nielsen comes after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security confirmed to CBC at the beginning of May that it was reviewing a proposal to amend the 14-year-old border agreement.