Justin Trudeau appears to have given up hope of reducing the flow of people crossing from the United States illegally to claim asylum, and is test-driving fresh rationalizations on why a migrant surge might not be such a bad thing. The new line from the Prime Minister is that the flow of asylum seekers may prove an economic boon for Canada.
“The fact that we have extremely low unemployment, we’re seeing labour shortages in certain parts of the country, (means) it is a good time to reflect that we are bringing in immigrants who are going to keep our economy growing,” Trudeau said in a pre-Christmas interview.
The statement came in response to a question about a contention by his predecessor, Stephen Harper, that an immigration system that is legal, secure and economically driven will have high levels of public acceptance, while the “irregular” migration phenomenon has made the system less secure and less economically driven.
It is clear there are labour shortages. A Business Development Bank of Canada study in September found four in 10 small- and medium-sized companies struggling to find new employees. But an orderly immigration system aims to match the skills of newcomers with the demands of employers. The free-for-all at the border is a triage situation. The only thing economically driven about it is the desire of the migrants crossing illegally to have a higher standard of living than they had in their country of origin.
The endless appeals process means there is a massive backlog that is likely to require reform to reduce
Who can blame them? But it’s no way to run a country.
To claim this abuse of process will help the economy to grow is the latest attempt by the Trudeau government to justify its loss of control over the Canada-U.S. border. In November, Bill Blair, the border security minister, tried to sanitize the situation by pointing out that 40 per cent of migrants crossing illegally are children, suggesting that Canada is merely living up to its human rights obligations.
Neither argument can rationalize a situation where the integrity of the immigration system is being violated.
Trudeau pointed out that the Liberals have injected extra resources ($173 million in budget 2018) to ensure that everyone who arrives in Canada, even if they cross between official border crossings, is given a full security screening. “There are no loopholes or shortcuts, in that our immigration system continues to apply to everyone who arrives in this country,” he said.
This is true. The flow of migrants, mainly from Nigeria and Haiti, is costing the federal government a pretty penny — $340 million for the cohort of migrants who arrived in Canada in 2017, according to a November report by the Parliamentary Budget Office — not to mention straining provincial resources (the PBO estimated a cost of $200 million each for Ontario and Quebec). Such generous provision has attracted yet more asylum shoppers — year-over-year numbers suggest more people crossed illegally into Canada between January and September this year (15,726) than in the same period last year (15,102).
The flow of migrants, mainly from Nigeria and Haiti, is costing the federal government a pretty penny
The endless appeals process means there is a massive backlog that is likely to require reform to reduce.
But at least the government has some control over the process once migrants have claimed asylum. When it comes to reducing the number flowing across the border, the Liberals appear accepting of their impotence.
Blair’s mandate letter gave him the lead role in talking to the Trump administration about “modernizing” the Safe Third Country Agreement, which states migrants claiming refugee status must make their claim in the first “safe” country they arrive in — Canada or the U.S.
A loophole in the pact with the Americans means it does not apply between official points of entry.
But there appears to have been little progress on closing the loophole since public safety minister Ralph Goodale met then-homeland security secretary John Kelly in March, when they agreed to “monitor the situation” at the land border. Blair visited Washington in November to meet homeland security officials and his office says talks are “ongoing.”
They are likely to remain so.
No matter how much money the government spends trying to process asylum claims, a solution requires cooperation from the Trump administration — and that has not been forthcoming.
Even under Obama, there was no interest in extending the Safe Third Country Agreement to anyone crossing from the U.S. — a move that would increase the number of asylum claimants south of the border. There is likely to be a similar lack of concurrence about joint border enforcement patrols to stop people crossing in the first place.
But the agreement is currently as useless as a pulled tooth. There can be few issues of greater importance in the cross-border relationship and the point should be made forcefully in Washington whenever the Americans want something.
Canada’s consensus on immigration is in jeopardy, as economic migrants ignore this country’s laws and its borders.
Trudeau sounds resigned to being bound in an insoluble quandary. The upshot is that he is trying to promote an uncontrolled migration system as one that is not only orderly, but is of net benefit to Canada.
It is going to be a tough sell.