Politics

Canada 'urgently' discussing asylum seeker deportation issue with U.S.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland says Canada is seeking assurances from the United States that it won't deport asylum-seekers turned back by Canada at its borders through temporary pandemic containment measures.

U.S. official says it plans to send asylum seekers back to their home countries

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during a news conference in Ottawa, Friday March 27, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland says Canada is seeking assurances from the United States that it won't deport asylum-seekers turned back by Canada at its borders through temporary pandemic containment measures.

As part of the temporary agreement to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus across the shared border, Canada agreed last week to return asylum-seekers attempting to enter the country outside of official border points —a stark departure from Canada's former policy of allowing them to stay and file refugee claims.

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson said it plans to send those returned migrants back to their countries of origin.

"CBP is taking steps to prevent the further introduction of COVID-19 by the individuals it encounters," said spokesperson Michael Niezgoda in an email.

"In the event an alien cannot be returned to Mexico or Canada, CBP will work with interagency partners to secure return to the alien's country of origin and hold the alien for the shortest time possible."

Niezgoda said border officials are following advice from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Watch: Chrystia Freeland addresses plight of asylum seekers:

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland says Canada is seeking assurances from the United States that it won't deport asylum-seekers turned back by Canada at its borders through temporary pandemic containment measures. 1:52

"That is an issue which we are currently discussing urgently with our American partners," Freeland said during a news conference on Parliament Hill today.

"It is very important to Canada to abide by our international commitments ... including when it comes to refugees."

"We are aware of the problems of refoulement," Freeland said, referring to the forcible return of refugees to countries where they might face violence or persecution.

"And it was and continues to be important for Canada to have assurances that that would not happen to people returning to the United States.

Justin Mohammed, human rights law and policy campaigner at Amnesty International Canada, said the Canadian government needs to rethink the policy.

"At this time, the situation facing refugee protection claimants seeking to enter Canada from the U.S. is extremely unclear. If the U.S. is planning to deport such claimants without considering their refugee claims, Canada could be complicit in refoulement," he said 

"By denying people the right to make a claim in Canada, the government has put us in breach of our international legal obligation." 

When asked if Canada would rethink the temporary measue in light of the United States's stance, Freeland said she would not negotiate in public.

"But let me be clear about Canada's position, which is it is important for us to abide by our international commitments when it comes to the treatment of refugees," she said.

The issue of cross-border migrants isn't the only one the federal government wants to resolve with Washington right now.

Trudeau says talks continue with U.S. about border troops 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today his government is still in talks with the United States about a proposal to station American troops near the shared border.

Canadian officials voiced their opposition on Thursday after sources began leaking information about the proposal. Later that day, a Wall Street Journal report, citing a source, said Trump was going to drop the proposal.

WATCH:  Trudeau says talks continue with U.S. about border troops

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says talks continue with the United States about a proposal to station American troops near the shared border. 0:42

When asked about the newspaper article during his daily news briefing outside his home Friday morning, Trudeau would only say that talks continue.

"When we have more information, we'll share it," he said. "We continue to to engage closely in back-and-forths with the American administration on many, many issues around the border."

President Donald Trump was asked about the possibility of sending reinforcements to the northern border during a press conference Thursday evening.

"We have very strong deployments on the southern border, with Mexico. We had some troops up in Canada. But I'll find out about that," he said, before suddenly launching into a tangent on steel tariffs.

When contacted on Friday, an official with the the Department of Homeland Security repeated a statement given the day before.

"We will continue to consider additional actions to ensure federal law enforcement personnel at our borders have the resources and operational support needed to address the profound public health threat of uncontrolled cross-border movement during a pandemic," they said.

The two countries already have a mutual ban in place on non-essential travel across the border, which includes trips for recreational purposes.

With files from Katie Simpson and Reuters

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