End the Agreement

My latest column for the Kitchener Post somehow also ended up on the Waterloo Region Record’s website. Here are my thoughts on the illegal crossings into Canada:

Strike down agreement to properly help refugees

We have a lot of misconceptions when it comes to immigrants and the immigration process.

Listening to the media, many would think the U.S. has the greatest problem with illegal immigrants coming into America by land from Mexico.

The reality is quite different. Illegal immigration from Mexico is overblown and Trump’s call for a wall along the Mexican border is a grotesque waste of money that won’t solve the problem.

Most illegal immigrants don’t cross that border by land. Instead, most fly and enter legally, overstaying student and work visas. More tellingly, there are twice as many Canadians overstaying their visas in the United States than there are Mexicans.

Recent developments suggest our border with the U.S. is seeing more illegal crossings than the American border with Mexico. Since November 2016, dozens of people have crossed illegally into Canada seeking refugee status.

These people, including families with children, have risked hypothermia walking across snow-covered wilderness. They’ve been treated well by the RCMP after being caught, but they’re still arrested, and their cases are dealt with by the courts.

This hasn’t stopped some politicians from making hay from the crisis. Former Conservative MP Tony Clement called upon Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to stop the illegal immigration by “applying the law.” He got testy when the journalist asked him what more Trudeau could do, since he was applying the law already.

It suggests Clement, and politicians like him, want the government to get tougher with these families and make them feel less welcome. If applying the law isn’t sufficient, they either want the laws made more punitive, or they’re inadvertently suggesting that we should go beyond the law in getting tough.

People shouldn’t enter Canada illegally, but part of the problem is the Canada-US Safe Third Country Agreement compels them to do so. This agreement, signed between Canada and the U.S. by former prime minister Jean Chr├ętien in 2002, states that if any refugee seeking asylum in either Canada or the U.S. lands in one of these two countries, they cannot proceed to the other country to make their claim.

As most people flying across the ocean to Canada tend to land in the U.S. first, this effectively means we have shuffled off thousands of potential refugees to the United States.

That didn’t seem like a big problem until the election of President Donald Trump south of the border. Now, with his unruly executive orders blocking entry to the U.S. on a whim, even to green card holders, and with hate crimes against Muslims and other minorities spiking, these refugees have a right to wonder if their safe third country is so safe anymore.

Because of the Safe Third Country Agreement, refugees trying to enter Canada at a legal border crossing will be sent back to the United States. Given the tenor of the current administration, their attempts to cross may well get them deported to the very countries they are seeking refuge from in the first place.

This is inhumane.

We must never forget that these refugees are human beings, just like you and me. They are afraid for their lives and it is our duty as human beings to give them safe harbour.

The law should be changed to stop illegal border crossings. The best way to do that is to end the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States, and let these individuals cross at legal border crossings and be processed by the system we have.

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