Maureen Silcoff, a former member of the IRB and past president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers has written a timely article that provides insight regarding Roxham Road.
She writes that the increase in refugees arriving at Roxham Road, a crossing point between the US and Canada, has caused a stir in Canada. However, the rhetoric surrounding the issue is misplaced. Entering Canada through Roxham Road is not a guaranteed route to asylum, but rather the beginning of a rigorous process. Furthermore, Canada has a long history of protecting refugees who fear persecution based on religious or political beliefs or gender-based violence. The Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) is at the heart of the issue, as it bars refugees from entering Canada through official ports of entry. Instead of calling for the STCA to be modernized, the government could use Article 6 of the agreement, which permits public policy exemptions to expand the categories of people who can enter through official ports of entry. Such exemptions could reduce pressure on Roxham Road, disperse people from coast to coast, and reduce entry through Quebec, allowing for settlement services across the country.
Contrast Ms. Silcoff's article with recent news that Premier François Legault of Quebec has called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to redirect all asylum seekers entering Quebec to other provinces "as soon as they arrive at the border." Radio-Canada obtained the letter, which is the latest attempt from the Quebec government to reduce the flow of asylum seekers entering the province, especially through the irregular border crossing on Roxham Road.
Legault is not only demanding a redirection of asylum seekers, but also full reimbursement for all costs related to welcoming and integrating migrants in 2021 and 2022, a sum that he puts in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The premier's tone is that of an unapologetic stern patriarch.
Legault also demands that Trudeau to renegotiate the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States, a message he's tried to hammer home repeatedly in the past. Signed in 2002 between Canada and the United States, the agreement stipulates that migrants must submit their asylum application in the first of the two countries they enter and cannot try a second time at an official border crossing. While it was meant to deny forum shopping, the STC does not apply to irregular border crossings. That's why people who enter Canada through Roxham Road cannot be turned away.
"The influx of asylum seekers cannot continue. Quebec's capacity to receive refugees has been exceeded," the letter reads. The Quebec government says the capacity of both the province's public services and the community organizations that provide direct support to refugee claimants have been stretched beyond their limits.
Legault adds that accommodating the increasing number of asylum seekers is also putting pressure on the province's education system and its ability to protect the French language, most notably in the city of Montreal. "The massive arrival of tens of thousands of migrants in the Quebec metropolis, a significant proportion of whom do not speak French, greatly complicates our francization goals," the letter reads.
"Roxham Road will have to be closed some day, whether we like it or not," Legault said in the letter. "It seems to me that it is your primary responsibility as Prime Minister of this country to ensure that these boundaries are respected."
Trudeau has yet to respond to Legault's letter, but this latest call for action is likely to add more pressure on the prime minister to address Quebec's concerns. What Quebec wants, it usually gets. For now, the fate of asylum seekers entering Quebec and the future of Roxham Road remain uncertain.