The House

Migrants and pre-clearance: spotlight on the Canada-U.S. border

This week on The House, with an increasing number of asylum seekers braving the cold and snow to illegally come to Canada, and with concerns about what an expanded pre-clearance agreement could mean for Canadian travellers heading to the U.S., border issues have clearly become more complex in the Donald Trump era. We talk to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, and CBSA agent Dominique Filion.
An asylum claimant claiming to be from Turkey is arrested after crossing the border into Canada from the United States Thursday, February 23, 2017 near Hemmingford, Que. A growing number of people have been walking across the border into Canada to claim refugee status. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Canada's public safety minister says he'll be discussing the growing issue of asylum seekers trying to sneak across the border with senior officials in the United States in the coming few days.

"I will have an opportunity in the next number of days to discuss the principles that are involved here with senior officials in the United States," Ralph Goodale told CBC's The House.

"They need to be fully informed of the circumstances that Canada is dealing with for international reasons. But the very obvious one is that this flow is originating in their country and they need to be fully apprised of the consequences that we're dealing with on our side of the border."

Goodale, who among other things oversees the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency, said the government is already communicating with U.S. authorities about the impact these unannounced asylum seekers are having on the Canadian refugee system.

"We're obviously explaining to them what we're dealing with... and making that sure they understand what's happening on their side of the border to fill in any information gaps," he told host Chris Hall.

Trudeau 'must' raise border crossings with Trump, says Manitoba premier

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister announces at Welcome Place, a refugee support organization in Winnipeg, emergency support for refugee claimants crossing the Manitoba border from the United States, Thursday, February 23, 2017. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

The premier of Manitoba, whose province is grappling with asylum seekers risking life and limb in frigid weather to come to Canada, says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau can play a role in resolving the crisis by raising the issue of illegal border crossings with U.S. President Donald Trump.

Recent decisions by the Trump administration are likely to increase the number of refugees arriving in Canada, Brian Pallister told CBC Radio's The House.

"The United States has a deserved reputation as well for being a very open society. That Statue of Liberty didn't have blinders on it, so it's important that there be some discussion about the nature of what is going on in that country in recent days and weeks."

The Progressive Conservative Leader said the topic should be raised tactfully.

"It must be raised. Because this is an issue I think that's not likely to go away," he said.

"We're not suggesting that it be the best way to seek entry into a country. No one is suggesting that. But the reality is people are coming here. They are crossing fields in the middle of winter at great risk to themselves because they are hopeful this is their future."

Trudeau and Trump did discuss border cooperation during a phone call Thursday, but few other details were given. A spokesperson said the call also touched on the softwood lumber file and the upcoming G7 and G20 summits.

Bridging the 'digital divide'

In December the CRTC ordered the country's internet providers to begin working toward boosting internet service and speeds in rural and isolated areas. (CBC)

Last week, The House was on the road to hear what Canadians would like to see in the upcoming federal budget.

More than once he heard about the issue of connecting to reliable and fast internet 

Evan Fraser, the head of the University of Guelph's Food Institute, explained that Canada is poised to become a leader in agriculture and food processing sector, but access to internet is crucial in rural areas to share farming data.

"We need to make sure the rural broadband agenda is on because if the tractor, the farmer, can't get the data off the farm then it's of no use," he said.

The head of the Belleville Chamber of Commerce also raised it, saying she can't get a reliable signal in her city.

It doesn't come as a surprise to Josh Tabish, campaigns director at OpenMedia. The group has been advocating for better access to broadband internet.

"Canada faces a pretty stark digital divide... gaps in connectivity exist in rural, urban and suburban areas fairly equally," he said. "Canada for a very long time has suffered from a lack of competition."

In December the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) declared that that Internet should be a basic service.

Tabish told The House that his group is now looking to Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains to craft a national strategy and put more money on the table.

"Going forward the government is duty bound to deliver on the CRTC's bold image for what digital connectivity in Canada can look like. And if they don't Canada will continue to struggle," he said.

In House panel

John Geddes, the Ottawa bureau chief at Maclean's, far right, and The Globe and Mail's Laura Stone talk to CBC The House host Chris Hall at the 2017 Manning Conference. (Emily Haws/CBC)

The debate about illegal border crossings has been raging for days on Parliament Hill.

Maclean's bureau chief John Geddes said the issue isn't about law and order but about policies, mainly the Safe Third Country Agreement.

"Everyone can see that the problem is this paradox. It sounds strange to say it but you can't plausibly stop people from crossing the Canadian border at these unofficial crossings," he said.

"The only way to stem the sort of unofficial traffic across the border is to push it towards official channels and that would mean suspending that agreement we have with the U.S."

Globe and Mail reporter Laura Stone said if asylum seekers turn up in the hundreds as the weather warms, the government is more likely to respond.

"I don't see them having a reactive response to this and suspending the Third Country Agreement right away. I think they're just not sure where they want to take this and are just waiting to see what happens," she said.

Both In House panelists agreed that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's message about Canada's open doors was likely meant for Canadians, but has obviously reached an international audience looking for hope.

"I don't think we recognize that the message was heard differently for those who may be in more desperate situations," Stone said.