The House

Government musing modernization of border pact

The federal government is looking at the possibility of working with the U.S. to modernize a border pact to help address the issues of asylum seekers crossing irregularly into Canada.
An RCMP officer speaks to an asylum seeker who crossed the border at Roxham Road in the summer of 2017. (CBC)

The federal government is looking at the possibility of working with the U.S. to modernize a border pact to help address the issues of asylum seekers crossing irregularly into Canada.

However, it's not clear what changes could be in the works.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said they're reviewing a Canadian proposal to amend the Safe Third Country Agreement — requiring individuals to claim asylum in the first country they land in, with few exceptions.

"It's always worth a look," Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said.

While Hussen has repeatedly stressed that there are no "formal negotiations" going on at this point, he told The House that part of the conversations around border management could include seeing if that 14-year-old agreement needs to be modernized.

Last year, Hussen rejected calls to suspend the agreement, saying there was no need to "tinker" with it, but on Thursday, he said Canadian officials have discussed the agreement with their U.S. counterparts.

"I think what they meant was that we've had discussions on all kinds of issues related to immigration and border security, including safe third," he said, attempting to clarify the confusion around the U.S.'s statement.

In the meantime, Hussen said the government will continue to address the issue of illegal border crossers by using the same tactics that seemed to work last year.

Educating specific groups more likely to cross, maintaining RCMP presence along the borders and funnelling funding into the Immigration and Refugee Board made up the majority of efforts in 2017 to quell the flow of border crossers.

The problem continues, so Ahmed Hussen says they'll continue with what worked before.

Last year, more than 20,000 asylum seekers crossed illegally into Canada. The trend seems to be continuing this year, with about 5,000 crossings so far.

The government has been hard-pressed to find a solution to this steady stream of people. Some of the ideas floated include the Conservative's pitch to designate the entire Canada-U.S. border an official crossing and the NDP's plan to suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement for 90 days.

The federal government is looking at the possibility of working with the U.S. to modernize a border pact to help address the issues of asylum seekers crossing irregularly into Canada. 9:15

Hussen called both parties' suggestions "impractical" and "not well thought out,"

The minister wouldn't say what other potential fixes are on the table, but said Canadians' safety is top priority.

However, opposition critics on Parliament Hill are skeptical of the government's priorities.

"I think it's political calculus," Conservative MP Michelle Rempel told The House, explaining she sees it as the government avoiding taking a concrete stance on the migrants so not to lose vote on either side of the fence as an election approaches.

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan added the Liberals' handling of the issue appears like they're trying to play both sides of the issue  --- pitching a love of immigrants on the international stage and then not backing it up with action at home.

"He can't talk out of both sides of his mouth," she said of Hussen.  

Conservative Immigration critic Michelle Rempel and NDP Immigration critic Jenny Kwan join The House. 8:10

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