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Why Trudeau got tough on immigration Are migrants exploiting Canada's asylum policy?

Scenes from Roxham Road, the most infamous point on the world's longest border. (GEOFF ROBINS/AFP via Getty Images)

Scenes from Roxham Road, the most infamous point on the world's longest border. (GEOFF ROBINS/AFP via Getty Images)


July 12, 2023   5 mins

“To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada.” In hindsight, this tweet by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2017 was ill-advised. It was written in response to Trump’s executive order banning refugees and visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries. Critics point to it as the trigger for a surge of asylum-seekers at the Canadian border.

If it were true that people were escaping to Canada from the US because they feared being deported under Trump’s harsh immigration policies, then the flow of immigrants heading north would have slowed when President Biden took office. According to government data, in the period between the tweet going out and the pandemic, which slowed crossings to a trickle, almost 60,000 people made “irregular border crossings” into Canada. But afterwards, the influx returned, reaching over 20,000 in 2022, Biden’s first year in office. By February of this year, more than 10,000 people had already crossed over into Canada.

Nor were refugees put off America by President Trump. Since 2020, the number of migrants going the other way — crossing into the US from Canada — has also shot up. Last year, Homeland Security apprehended more than 100,000 migrants crossing from Canada. (For context, in 2018 US authorities arrested only 558 people on the northern border.) There is no end in sight to these “irregular crossings”, and the public has been expressing its dissatisfaction with lax immigration controls on both sides of the border.

According to the two nations’ Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA), which has been in effect since 2004, refugees have to apply for status in the first “safe country” they reach. So, they cannot apply for asylum in Canada at official border crossings with the US. However, a loophole in the agreement enables migrants crossing at unofficial border points to claim asylum after they cross. And along the 9,000km-long border, there are many places to do so, the most infamous being Roxham Road, where New York state meets Quebec.

That is, until March 25, when Roxham Road was shut down by the Canadian government. Trudeau made the announcement on the afternoon of March 24, and the policy took effect at 12:01am the next day: “To address irregular migration, we are expanding the Safe Third Country Agreement to apply not only at designated ports of entry, but across the entire land border, including internal waterways, ensuring fairness and more orderly migration between our two countries.” Biden was in Canada at the time, on his first official visit since winning the presidency. It later transpired that the neighbouring countries had signed an amendment to the STCA a year earlier, but hadn’t made the news public because officials feared untold numbers of migrants might rush to cross the border before the changes could be enacted. Now, both countries can turn away asylum seekers, no matter where they cross.

This was a shock to Canada’s reputation as an immigrant-friendly country. Here, eligible refugees receiving generous welfare benefits including government-assisted housing, healthcare, work permits, and financial support. A path to citizenship is available to anyone who can secure permanent residency in the country. But there is a feeling, among some Canadians, that migrants have started exploiting vulnerabilities in the system. Almost 70% of Quebec residents — the province that Roxham Road leads into — said they wanted this irregular entry point closed. With social services in the province overwhelmed by asylum-seekers, the federal government started transferring migrants to Niagara Falls in Ontario, which saw welfare services pushed to the brink as well. Since 2021, the Immigration Department has paid $94 million to book out entire hotels for months, in order to accommodate asylum-seekers.

The ease with which people could illegally enter through Roxham Road, according to analysts, was “almost an invitation for undocumented migrants to try their chances at obtaining asylum in Canada”. Specifically, migrants from Nigeria, who make up a big chunk of all those who cross over from Roxham Road. The majority actually possess a valid US tourist visa, flying into New York before making their way to Canada. “I went to search Google and I figured out this is what everybody is doing,” one Nigerian migrant said while crossing the border. A “disproportionate” number of Nigerians claiming asylum are doing so on the grounds of LGBT persecution, which is met with more sympathy in Canada than in the US. But concerns have been raised about the similarities in such applications, and one investigation by a Nigeria-based publication revealed how some Nigerians make up stories in an attempt to secure asylum. This has left some aid organisations worrying that legitimate claims are now more likely to be doubted.

Some migrants still have their hearts set on America, however. Those from Mexico and India make up the bulk of illegal crossings from Canada to the States, with many flying into Canada for the sole purpose of getting across the world’s longest international border without detection. Mexicans, who since 2016 can fly visa-free to Canada, often spend thousands of dollars flying into Toronto and paying smugglers to get to the US — hence Biden’s motivation to renegotiate the STCA.

And this phenomenon burst into the public consciousness when, in January 2022, the bodies of four Indian nationals (two of them minors) were found frozen to death in Manitoba, near the American border. The Patel family had come to Canada on a tourist visa, but hoped to reach family in Chicago. A documentary last year suggested that, in Gujarat, the Patels had been a comfortable, upper-middle class family with no financial troubles or experiences of racial or religious persecution. Why, then, would they risk crossing illegally into the US in the middle of winter with two young children?

Migrant rights groups almost always lay the blame for tragedies at the feet of unscrupulous smugglers and harsh government policy. Few acknowledge that the people who decide to illegally cross an international border almost always have agency. And for middle-class migrants, it’s usually not about security; it’s about status. In developing countries, attaining the “American Dream” — or another Western nation’s equivalent — is still highly aspirational. And while everyone has the right to build a good life for themselves, migrants who can pay their way into one North American nation in order to cross over into the other, depending on their preference, undermine faith in the immigration system.

Which is a problem for Trudeau. His Liberal government plans to welcome half a million new immigrants into Canada every year till 2025. (Like most developed nations, Canada has an aging population, a low birth rate, and is facing a labour shortage.) Almost 50% of Canadians already think this target is too high. If Trudeau doesn’t want public opinion turning against his plans, he needs to reassure the electorate that his government has a strong handle on who is being welcomed across our borders.

Amending the STCA is meant to signal that the government is aware of the growing unpopularity of irregular border crossers, who are seen as jumping the queue, leaving those without financial means further down the list — not to mention those waiting in refugee camps around the world. John Manley, one of the architects of the original STCA, supports the new changes, claiming that most migrants around the world are in much greater danger than those who have already found their way to the US. But there has been backlash from refugee rights advocates, with the Canadian Council for Refugees, among others, arguing that the STCA is unconstitutional. But last month, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled otherwise.

The closure of Roxham Road sent a message to all those who want to migrate to Canada that the way to do so is through official channels. Two days later, the Government of Canada launched a survey to poll Canadians’ opinions. Trudeau was, apparently, ready to listen to how Canadians feel about this issue. While some advocates have been arguing that closing the loophole will have pushed people into the hands of smugglers, it’s still too early to tell what the effects of the new changes will be, though data on the past three months’ of irregular border crossings should be imminent. But whatever the outcome: the Prime Minister won’t be promoting Canada’s immigration policies on Twitter any time soon.


Hina Husain is a Pakistani-Canadian freelance writer based in Toronto.

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Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
10 months ago

Headline is a bit misleading. Trudeau doesn’t get tough on anything, other than the working class.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
10 months ago

Headline is a bit misleading. Trudeau doesn’t get tough on anything, other than the working class.

Andrew Roman
Andrew Roman
10 months ago

At half a million immigrants per year, in two years that’s a million, or 2.5 percent of the 40 million population. All these immigrants will need housing, food, cars, etc, which will require more energy. With 75 percent of Canada’s primary energy coming from fossil fuels, this rate of immigration will work against the government’s policy of rapid decarbonization to net zero.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
10 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Roman

The immigration number is actually 1 million. In addition to 400,000 immigrants, there were 600,000 non-permanent residents, such as students.

Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
10 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Roman

I was going to make a similar point before I saw your comment. The annual per capita carbon footprint in Canada is huge compared to the countries from which most of the migrants have come. Once in Canada, a migrant will consume an amount of energy, whether at home or work, similar to the amount consumed by a Canadian.

jane baker
jane baker
10 months ago

They didn’t face death and cross continents to stay poor

jane baker
jane baker
10 months ago

They didn’t face death and cross continents to stay poor

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
10 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Roman

The immigration number is actually 1 million. In addition to 400,000 immigrants, there were 600,000 non-permanent residents, such as students.

Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
10 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Roman

I was going to make a similar point before I saw your comment. The annual per capita carbon footprint in Canada is huge compared to the countries from which most of the migrants have come. Once in Canada, a migrant will consume an amount of energy, whether at home or work, similar to the amount consumed by a Canadian.

Andrew Roman
Andrew Roman
10 months ago

At half a million immigrants per year, in two years that’s a million, or 2.5 percent of the 40 million population. All these immigrants will need housing, food, cars, etc, which will require more energy. With 75 percent of Canada’s primary energy coming from fossil fuels, this rate of immigration will work against the government’s policy of rapid decarbonization to net zero.

Richard Ross
Richard Ross
10 months ago

Trudeau has already wrecked Canada, beyond repair. Our cities are already choked with people, and over-stretched services are declining every year. He’s betting on every new immigrant thanking him with their vote.

James P
James P
10 months ago
Reply to  Richard Ross

That’s what his step dad did. No surprises at good old Liberal Party before the country policies.

James P
James P
10 months ago
Reply to  Richard Ross

That’s what his step dad did. No surprises at good old Liberal Party before the country policies.

Richard Ross
Richard Ross
10 months ago

Trudeau has already wrecked Canada, beyond repair. Our cities are already choked with people, and over-stretched services are declining every year. He’s betting on every new immigrant thanking him with their vote.

Simon Neale
Simon Neale
10 months ago

A good article, not least because it is clear-eyed about the distinction between “refugees” and “migrants”.

To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith.

I’m sure a case could be made for classifying an underperforming economy, or a corrupt government, or a dreary life-denying culture as forms of “terror” that people are justified in fleeing from. But if that were really so, then shouldn’t Canada (and every other developed country) be arranging non-stop mercy flights to bring in every third-worlder who can make it to their nearest airport?
Laws and protocols regarding “refugees” date from a time when the only people capable of fleeing from third-world political instability were a tiny elite who had the skills and culture suited to the west. Let’s not pretend that we can maintain these in an age of mass cheap travel.
And thank you to those here who are making the case about the carbon footprint. The same applies, of course, to the UK – those chilly rainswept islands where we can only survive by burning stuff. The more we let in, the worse will be the upcoming battle over scarce (i.e. legally forbidden) resources. #WelcometoCanada indeed!

Jacqueline Burns
Jacqueline Burns
10 months ago
Reply to  Simon Neale

Don’t give Trudeau any ideas!

Jacqueline Burns
Jacqueline Burns
10 months ago
Reply to  Simon Neale

Don’t give Trudeau any ideas!

Simon Neale
Simon Neale
10 months ago

A good article, not least because it is clear-eyed about the distinction between “refugees” and “migrants”.

To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith.

I’m sure a case could be made for classifying an underperforming economy, or a corrupt government, or a dreary life-denying culture as forms of “terror” that people are justified in fleeing from. But if that were really so, then shouldn’t Canada (and every other developed country) be arranging non-stop mercy flights to bring in every third-worlder who can make it to their nearest airport?
Laws and protocols regarding “refugees” date from a time when the only people capable of fleeing from third-world political instability were a tiny elite who had the skills and culture suited to the west. Let’s not pretend that we can maintain these in an age of mass cheap travel.
And thank you to those here who are making the case about the carbon footprint. The same applies, of course, to the UK – those chilly rainswept islands where we can only survive by burning stuff. The more we let in, the worse will be the upcoming battle over scarce (i.e. legally forbidden) resources. #WelcometoCanada indeed!

Terry M
Terry M
10 months ago

Massive immigration from third-world countries will deconstruct Western civilization, the best the world has ever known. If Europeans thought the Americanization of Europe was bad, wait until you experience Islamification.
Oh, wait, it’s started already and growing fast!

Apsley
Apsley
10 months ago
Reply to  Terry M

Add African violence to the woke Brave New World equation, and you basically have a blueprint for Hell on Earth.

Apsley
Apsley
10 months ago
Reply to  Terry M

Add African violence to the woke Brave New World equation, and you basically have a blueprint for Hell on Earth.

Terry M
Terry M
10 months ago

Massive immigration from third-world countries will deconstruct Western civilization, the best the world has ever known. If Europeans thought the Americanization of Europe was bad, wait until you experience Islamification.
Oh, wait, it’s started already and growing fast!

Apsley
Apsley
10 months ago

It’s interesting to me as a UK citizen that Canada (especially) and the USA are experiencing unprecedented levels of illegal immigration under the guise of seeking asylum. The UK has a massive problem in this respect. Our government has proved inept at stopping this disrespect of our borders and exploitation of a feeble government that has proved utterly incapable of addressing, let alone solving, the problem.
To be fair to the UK government, it is baulked at every turn by a woke legal profession (including a woke judiciary that is not so much independent as out of control) that has for years manipulated human rights legislation to promote minority interests at the expense of those of the majority – support for illegal immigrants being one such cause in which they have successfully frustrated every move by the government and are likely to continue to do so. I personally believe that the Rwanda policy is spot on in principle. But the cynic in me speculates that it would be difficult banish hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants and asylum seekers to Rwanda each year. Of course, the UK is not helped by France which is only too happy to funnel these people across the UK/France border – each successful crossing being one less problem for France, which is paid handsomely by the UK to implement controls on its side of the boarder.
Politicians in the Western democracies have totally lost control of the migration phenomenon, not least because of their woke espousal of human rights at the expense of common sense, their attachment to globalisation and corresponding hatred of the nation state (which places defence of the state and its citizens as a top, if not THE top priority) and a deluded world view that the citizens of ‘sh*thole countries’ (to quote D J Trump) like Nigeria and others are falling apart from the effects of so-called ‘climate change’ (whatever that means) and not gigantic overpopulation, corruption and endemic violence and misogyny, and a damaging, pernicious racism that condemns White people and everything associated with them. The consequences for our/my descendants are too awful to contemplate.

Apsley
Apsley
10 months ago

It’s interesting to me as a UK citizen that Canada (especially) and the USA are experiencing unprecedented levels of illegal immigration under the guise of seeking asylum. The UK has a massive problem in this respect. Our government has proved inept at stopping this disrespect of our borders and exploitation of a feeble government that has proved utterly incapable of addressing, let alone solving, the problem.
To be fair to the UK government, it is baulked at every turn by a woke legal profession (including a woke judiciary that is not so much independent as out of control) that has for years manipulated human rights legislation to promote minority interests at the expense of those of the majority – support for illegal immigrants being one such cause in which they have successfully frustrated every move by the government and are likely to continue to do so. I personally believe that the Rwanda policy is spot on in principle. But the cynic in me speculates that it would be difficult banish hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants and asylum seekers to Rwanda each year. Of course, the UK is not helped by France which is only too happy to funnel these people across the UK/France border – each successful crossing being one less problem for France, which is paid handsomely by the UK to implement controls on its side of the boarder.
Politicians in the Western democracies have totally lost control of the migration phenomenon, not least because of their woke espousal of human rights at the expense of common sense, their attachment to globalisation and corresponding hatred of the nation state (which places defence of the state and its citizens as a top, if not THE top priority) and a deluded world view that the citizens of ‘sh*thole countries’ (to quote D J Trump) like Nigeria and others are falling apart from the effects of so-called ‘climate change’ (whatever that means) and not gigantic overpopulation, corruption and endemic violence and misogyny, and a damaging, pernicious racism that condemns White people and everything associated with them. The consequences for our/my descendants are too awful to contemplate.

Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
10 months ago

Canada has an interesting approach to safe routes for asylum. With a situation such as Syria, Canada cherry picks families in which the breadwinner has a useful skill or qualification Then they announce that they have done their bit, letting Britain and the rest squabble about who takes in the less “desirable” ones.

Last edited 10 months ago by Peter Kwasi-Modo
Jacqueline Burns
Jacqueline Burns
10 months ago

I wish we did that!

Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
10 months ago

Britain can only do it that way if it stops the boats.

Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
10 months ago

Britain can only do it that way if it stops the boats.

Jacqueline Burns
Jacqueline Burns
10 months ago

I wish we did that!

Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
10 months ago

Canada has an interesting approach to safe routes for asylum. With a situation such as Syria, Canada cherry picks families in which the breadwinner has a useful skill or qualification Then they announce that they have done their bit, letting Britain and the rest squabble about who takes in the less “desirable” ones.

Last edited 10 months ago by Peter Kwasi-Modo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
10 months ago

“one investigation by a Nigeria-based publication revealed how some Nigerians make up stories in an attempt to secure asylum.”
I think you mean 98.9% of all asylum seekers

Last edited 10 months ago by Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
10 months ago

“one investigation by a Nigeria-based publication revealed how some Nigerians make up stories in an attempt to secure asylum.”
I think you mean 98.9% of all asylum seekers

Last edited 10 months ago by Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Victoria Cooper
Victoria Cooper
10 months ago

Never mind drones, immigration is the new form of warfare.

Victoria Cooper
Victoria Cooper
10 months ago

Never mind drones, immigration is the new form of warfare.

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
10 months ago

The sentence that explains it all is: “Almost 70% of Quebec residents — the province that Roxham Road leads into — said they wanted this irregular entry point closed.“

The Liberals win elections in Ontario and Quebec and the rest of the country can go suck eggs.

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
10 months ago

The sentence that explains it all is: “Almost 70% of Quebec residents — the province that Roxham Road leads into — said they wanted this irregular entry point closed.“

The Liberals win elections in Ontario and Quebec and the rest of the country can go suck eggs.

jane baker
jane baker
10 months ago

I find it so odd,and disturbing that everything I was taught by my parents to loathe ,despise and hold in contempt about our society,our culture and our way of life is what they desire and see as wealth and success. Because for decades we went to their countries swanning around,often in few clothes and with money stuffed purses. You can’t blame them for deciding to get to this Eldorado. So a dirty room in a shared house and a grim anti-social hours minimum wage job is a dream come true. It’s a start.
But wait, they are saving the British economy. They are all paying shed loads of tax. On minimum wage?

jane baker
jane baker
10 months ago

I find it so odd,and disturbing that everything I was taught by my parents to loathe ,despise and hold in contempt about our society,our culture and our way of life is what they desire and see as wealth and success. Because for decades we went to their countries swanning around,often in few clothes and with money stuffed purses. You can’t blame them for deciding to get to this Eldorado. So a dirty room in a shared house and a grim anti-social hours minimum wage job is a dream come true. It’s a start.
But wait, they are saving the British economy. They are all paying shed loads of tax. On minimum wage?

Mark Turner
Mark Turner
10 months ago

This is the downfall of western civilisation, dragged into the gutter of third world decay and degeneration by successive liberal governments. This swarm of detritus needs drastic action to halt and turn back if our decline and fall is to even be attempted to be slowed or reversed……..I seriously fear for state of the country my sons will inherit – if the fascist liberal regime in charge has not already stolen everything they have under the guise of taxes to fund their woke ideological agenda to the detriment of all the original population of this once great country…….Enoch Powell was so right…….

Mark Turner
Mark Turner
10 months ago

This is the downfall of western civilisation, dragged into the gutter of third world decay and degeneration by successive liberal governments. This swarm of detritus needs drastic action to halt and turn back if our decline and fall is to even be attempted to be slowed or reversed……..I seriously fear for state of the country my sons will inherit – if the fascist liberal regime in charge has not already stolen everything they have under the guise of taxes to fund their woke ideological agenda to the detriment of all the original population of this once great country…….Enoch Powell was so right…….