Tougher airport screening could be why refugees are crossing the border on foot
As hundreds of asylum seekers crossed illegally from the United States into Canada this winter, government officials were left scratching their heads over one particular pattern: Most of them had always intended to end up on Canadian soil.
These people, according to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, weren’t fleeing President Donald Trump or recent American immigration crackdowns. They were landing in the U.S., crossing the Canada-U.S. border on foot (away from a border checkpoint), and then making asylum claims here because that had been their plan all along.
In an interview in late February, Goodale said his department was still trying to figure out why. In other words, why not simply fly straight into Canada then file their claim?
A series of documents recently obtained by Global News may offer one possible explanation.
The documents reveal that Canadian border officials stationed in countries like Mexico are flagging certain travellers who they believe may file bogus asylum claims.
Border officials pulled one Mexican woman aside in mid-March, for instance, because she had bought a one-way ticket to Canada at the last minute. That’s a red flag for Canadian officials, especially since the visa requirement for Mexican nationals was lifted last December.
The Canada Border Services Agency didn’t buy the woman’s explanation that she was visiting friends in Mississauga, Ont, according to the documents, and when she was asked if she intended to make a refugee claim in Canada, she said she would “certainly look into it.”
Her electronic travel authorization — the document Mexican nationals now need to travel here — was revoked.
The documents show another man was refused boarding after it was discovered he’d been deported six times from the U.S.
Yet another said he was coming to visit Canada from Mexico for five months, but he had no hotel reservations and thought Montreal was closer to Toronto than Quebec City.
And it’s not just Mexico. In Brussels, another passenger was refused boarding to Montreal in February after trying to pass himself off as a German citizen. In that case, a Belgian border officer determined his passport was a fake, and he was actually from Ghana.
When asked about the possibility that strict screening at airports abroad might be leading people to instead try their luck getting to the U.S. before crossing into Canada on foot, the national president of the union representing Canada’s border guards said it’s possible.
“That certainly may be the reason why, but that would be a very good question to ask (Canada Border Services Agency),” said Jean-Pierre Fortin.
“But they’re (crossing on foot) for a reason. And probably it’s the easiest way for them to come into Canada — to come, by the way, illegally into Canada — and then force the legislation to kick in for us to look at their status.”
WATCH: They’ve arrived, but where do asylum seekers go and what are the costs?
Any foreign national walking across the border away from a designated checkpoint is typically arrested by the RCMP and taken to see an immigration or border official, where they can make an asylum claim. But if you’re denied boarding at an airport on your way to Canada, you never get that chance.
The CBSA operates a network of 47 liaison offices abroad to screen people in advance of travel to Canada.
A spokesperson for Goodale’s office pointed out that Mexicans in particular “are not a significant nationality of the irregular border crossers we’ve seen in recent months,” and “the presence of CBSA officers in Mexico is not related to these flows.”
The CBSA would not disclose which other countries have local liaison offices.
Goodale himself, meanwhile, said Tuesday that he is not prepared to comment on the possible reasons behind the spike in illegal border crossers.
“We’ll take all of the factors into account, and I don’t want to speculate before we have all the necessary information,” the minister said.
“We’re still researching that question. And we’ve asked our counterparts in the United States to help in the research.”
‘Time is of the essence’
The broader issue, said union president Fortin, is that the government seems to be dragging its heels on all aspects of this file. The Liberals have given no indication they are prepared to tweak the rules surrounding asylum claims, even though a recent poll suggests Canadians overwhelmingly want change.
“The flow of asylum seekers keeps increasing, significantly,” Fortin said.
“We still don’t have the resources to deal with the matter right now. Our officers are still under a tremendous amount of pressure.”
As the temperature warms, he added, the pressure will increase.
“We don’t know if we’re going to be able to manage this crisis … Again, time is of the essence here because the demands keep increasing and the country remains at risk.”
*With files from Vassy Kapelos
© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.