Pamphlets circulating in Plattsburgh, NY, offer how-to instructions on border crossing

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Michelle Rempel says government playing ‘shell game with human beings’
Conservative MP Michelle Rempel accused the Liberal government of playing a "shell game with human beings" upon news that Toronto is having difficulty dealing with the influx of refugees – May 24, 2018

A pamphlet being circulated in New York state that explains how to cross the Canada-U.S. border between legal checkpoints made waves on Parliament Hill Thursday, with the Conservatives saying the leaflet is the direct result of Justin Trudeau’s immigration policy.

The pamphlet, first reported on by French-language television network TVA, is being handed out in bus stations and hotels in Plattsburgh, New York, a city 25 kilometres from the border that has become a final jumping-off point for asylum seekers.

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It goes into detail about how to reach the border near Quebec’s Roxham Road, how much the taxi ride should cost (no more than US$77.50, and a number to call if the cabbie tries to charge more), what to expect from the RCMP when you reach the crossing point, and how to respond.

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“You can only cross one time, so all baggage must be carried over together,” it notes.

The back page of the pamphlet.

The pamphlet also includes contact information for legal aid in Canada, and explains the loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement, which is at the heart of why over 27,500 people have opted to cross away from a legal checkpoint over the past 18 months.

It notes that if an asylum seeker heads to an official border crossing, it can result in being turned back to the U.S., then detention and deportation.

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READ MORE: Over 26,000 people have crossed the border illegally since last year, but only 1% have been removed

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen told reporters on Thursday afternoon that the government has reached out directly to the group behind the material to ensure they are providing “full information” to asylum seekers.

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“We’re asking them to not have incomplete information being shared by this organization … (to) not inadvertently mislead people,” he said.

“If you don’t need Canada’s protection, you should not use the asylum system. And if you do, you will be removed from Canada.

Rempel blasts ‘Band-Aid’ solutions

Hours earlier, Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel again blasted the government’s handling of the file.

“We’ve been hearing about the fact that information has been disseminated in organized fashions encouraging people to illegally cross the border into Canada … for many months now,” she said of the pamphlets.

“To me, this is just another example that the Band-Aid solutions that this government has put forward in fact, I think, (are) making the problem worse and encouraging people to enter the country illegally.”

Asked if the government should reach out to the mayor of Plattsburgh about the pamphlets, Rempel said it’s not the mayor’s responsibility.

The pamphlet is being produced by a local non-profit organization called Plattsburgh Cares. On its Facebook page and official website, the group describes itself as a “coalition of faith, service and activist groups working to assist immigrants and others in our community.”

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Plattsburgh Cares was formed last year in response to a rise in anti-immigrant sentiment in the U.S. It appears to rely largely on donations.

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Global News reached out to the group for further information about its recent activities linked to the Canada-U.S. border on Thursday, and received an emailed statement in response.

“Plattsburgh Cares is a coalition working to assist vulnerable people in our community and help them achieve their goals safely and responsibly with compassion, justice and respect,” it read.

“Part of this humanitarian mission includes providing basic, non-legal information so people will not be lost or stranded and will know how to obtain the legal and other supports they need to make optimal choices for themselves and their families.”

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The Liberals say they are engaged in a widespread and aggressive outreach campaign to discourage irregular border crossings, both online and in the form of in-person visits to communities in the U.S. and Nigeria.

A recent investigation by Global News, however, found that the social media outreach has been limited, at best. The government devoted an additional $173 million in its last budget to dealing with the situation at the border.

READ MORE: Canada’s social media outreach to asylum seekers may not be as ‘aggressive’ as it seems

Rempel is again calling on the government to close the loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement by applying the treaty across the entire length of the border, not just at legal crossings.

She said she is convinced that Canada can make those changes unilaterally, with or without cooperation from the U.S. government; cooperation that officials in Ottawa have argued would be necessary.

“The Canadian Parliament is sovereign from the United States, we do have control over our own border,” Rempel countered.

“We are tasked here to legislate. Surely Parliament and the thousands of bureaucrats — between public safety, immigration, justice — can come up with a solution such that we could technically designate the entire Canadian border an official point of entry so that the Safe Third Country Agreement could apply.”

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The large influx of people has proven challenging for local organizations trying to assist the newcomers, and for municipalities. Toronto announced on Wednesday that it would be opening two emergency reception centres to help house the refugee claimants.

It can take over a year for a refugee claim to be heard and a decision made, and the backlog of cases at the Immigration and Refugee Board is still growing.

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