Following deaths of 8 near Akwesasne, Trudeau says orderly immigration system is needed
Bodies of people were pulled from St. Lawrence River after they attempted boat crossing to U.S.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is reiterating the importance of an orderly immigration system as police investigate the deaths of eight people, including two children, near the Mohawk Territory of Akwesasne last week.
Last month, Canada negotiated a deal with the United States to turn away asylum seekers at unofficial border crossings like Roxham Road, closing a long-standing loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement.
Immigration advocates have warned the new rules would push people to take even greater risks in their efforts to cross the border, such as using smugglers and moving to even more remote locations.
A week later, the bodies of eight people were pulled from the St. Lawrence River; police said they believe they were attempting to make it into the U.S. from Canada by boat.
The prime minister called the deaths a tragedy, but said Canada needs to maintain public confidence in the immigration system.
"When people take risks to cross our borders in an irregular fashion or if they pay criminals to get them across the border, this isn't a system we can have confidence in," Trudeau said in French at a Monday press conference in Val-d'Or, Que.
Canada is prepared to welcome more immigrants than ever, he said, "but we're going to make sure that it's done in the right ways, appropriately."
The government's immigration plan says between 410,000 and 505,000 people will become permanent residents this year, which would be the highest number in recent history.
But since COVID-19 border restrictions lifted in 2021, the number of asylum claims has significantly surpassed pre-pandemic levels. Cities and provinces, particularly Quebec, have said the number of families claiming asylum have put pressure on local services.
Despite the recent clampdown at the border, the federal government set aside $1 billion for temporary shelter and health-care coverage for asylum seekers.
Critics want agreement with U.S. suspended
NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan called on the government to suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement Monday, saying it was negotiated in secret and without consultation.
"I do fear that people will die," said Kwan at a press conference at the irregular border crossing near Emerson, Man.
She was joined by Seidu Mohammed, a bisexual man from Ghana, whose asylum claim was rejected in America. He spent a year in immigration detention before he crossed into Canada through an irregular border crossing.
If he didn't, he fears he would have been deported to Ghana where sexual acts between consenting people of the same gender is against the law and people who identify as LGBTQ face discrimination and violence.
Mohammed said he was terrified when he heard about the new policy.
"It's going to put a lot of immigrants and refugees in danger, and they're going to lose their lives from this," he said.
Immigration minister considering policy changes
Immigration Minister Sean Fraser called the eight deaths in Akwesasne horrific, and said they have caused him to think about changes.
"I don't have an announcement on a policy change today, but I can reassure you that I'm thinking very deeply about what shifts we ought to be making in Canada," he said, reflecting specifically on the fact that the two children who died had Canadian passports.
The children were one and two years old.
Fraser said the government is looking at putting money toward some of the root causes that push people to make perilous journeys through irregular border crossings in the first place, but repeated the prime minister's message about the importance of an orderly system.
"We want to do what we can to promote opportunities for people to come through regular pathways so they know that they're going to be able to arrive in Canada safely, whether that's through our refugee programs, whether that's through our economic programs to be reunited with their families," Fraser said at a press conference in Calgary.