Trudeau says he will raise Safe Third Country Agreement during President Biden's visit

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he plans to push U.S. President Joe Biden to renegotiate the Safe Third Country Agreement during his visit to Canada next month.

Trudeau facing pressure from Quebec, Conservatives to close unofficial border crossing in Quebec

People in jackets walk towards police officers in the winter.
A family of asylum seekers from Colombia is met by RCMP officers after crossing the border at Roxham Road into Canada on Feb. 9 in Champlain, N.Y. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he plans to push U.S. President Joe Biden to renegotiate the Safe Third Country Agreement during his visit to Canada next month.

That agreement states that asylum seekers who enter the U.S. or Canada must make their claims in the first country they arrive in, because the two countries share similar approaches to immigration.

But the treaty doesn't cover unofficial points of entry. Since 2017, Canada has seen an influx of refugee claimants crossing the U.S. border at unofficial entry points — including Roxham Road, about 50 km south of Montreal.

Responding to recent political pressure, Trudeau has said his government is working to renegotiate the Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S. On Thursday, he promised to raise the issue with Biden himself during his visit.

"I can assure you that in my conversations directly with President Biden, I have told him it is a priority for us," Trudeau said in French.

In an interview with CBC News Network's Power & Politics on Wednesday, U.S Ambassador David Cohen refused to confirm that the United States is renegotiating the agreement with Canada.

"You've never seen or heard anyone from the United States confirm that there are specific discussions occurring on the Safe Third Country Agreement, and I'm not going to be the first United States official to make that statement," he told host David Cochrane.

Joe Biden.
U.S. President Joe Biden will make an official visit to Canada in March. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Cohen also said changes to the Safe Third Country Agreement would do "very little" to address irregular migration, adding the two countries should be focused on addressing root causes.

Trudeau has faced calls from Quebec Premier François Legault and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre to close Roxham Road to asylum seekers.

According to federal government statistics, more than 39,000 people claimed asylum in Quebec in 2022 after crossing into Canada outside official ports of entry, mostly through Roxham Road. Around 64 per cent of all asylum claims in Canada in 2022 were made in Quebec.

It is against the law for a migrant to cross the border anywhere other than an official port of entry. But once someone is in Canada, they're legally allowed to apply for asylum, which is a step toward refugee status.

In a letter published Tuesday in the Globe and Mail, Legault called on other provinces to help settle asylum seekers entering Canada via Quebec.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada says it started transferring migrants arriving in Quebec to cities like Ottawa and Niagara Falls, Ont. in July. The Atlantic provinces have expressed a willingness to do more.

WATCH | PM says government will support Atlantic provinces' taking in asylum seekers:

PM says federal government will support Atlantic provinces' efforts to take in asylum seekers

3 months ago
Duration 0:15
Asked by reporters about some Atlantic premiers expressing interest in hosting asylum seekers coming into Quebec via Roxham Road, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Ottawa will be there to support those provinces' efforts ‘just as the federal government has been there to support Quebec.'

The four Atlantic premiers gathered Monday for a meeting hosted by P.E.I.'s Dennis King. Premier King said he's spoken with federal Immigration Minister Sean Fraser about a possible plan to host asylum seekers.

"I think all of us — it's part of our DNA as Canadians to be as welcoming as we possibly can to those from around the world who come from difficult circumstances," he said.

The other premiers agreed that they would talk with the federal government to see what can be done.

"We've been asked and we'll do what we can, for sure," Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston said.

On Thursday, Trudeau promised the federal government would help out financially if the Atlantic provinces agree to host asylum seekers who arrived in Quebec.

"We will also be there to work with and support the Atlantic provinces who want to help out with this challenge," he said.


Darren Major

CBC Journalist

Darren Major is a senior writer for CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He can be reached via email at darren.major@cbc.ca.

With files from The Canadian Press