May 27, 2018 12:29 pm

The West Block, Season 7, Episode 38

Watch the full broadcast of The West Block from Sunday, May 27, 2018. Hosted by Eric Sorensen.

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THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 38, Season 7
Sunday, May 27, 2018

Host: Eric Sorensen

Guest Interviews: Minister Ahmed Hussen, Unifor President Jerry Dias,
Ambassador Nimrod Barkan

Location: Ottawa

On this Sunday, the Immigration Minister is grilled in the House of Commons over asylum seekers streaming into this country. What is the government doing to reduce illegal border crossings? We’ll talk to the minister.

Story continues below

Then, President Trump threatens massive tariffs on automobile imports, citing a national security threat. Is it a pressure tactic with NAFTA hanging in the balance?

And the Canadian government calls for an independent inquiry into the deadly violence in the Gaza earlier this month, and Israel isn’t happy about that. We’ll talk to the Israelian ambassador.

It’s Sunday, May the 27th. I’m Eric Sorensen, and this is The West Block.

Well just this year, more than 7,600 asylum seekers have entered Canada illegally, three times more than a year ago. The number is expected to grow this summer. This remarkable scene repeated over and over: people avoiding the official border crossing where they could be turned back to the U.S., as a safe third country. Instead, away from the crossing, they claim asylum and are ushered into the country by the RCMP. The Opposition calls for the entire border to be treated as an official entry point.

Minister Michelle Rempel: “The loophole and the Safe Third Country Agreement needs to be closed. Will the minister take responsibility for the erosion of social license for immigration in this country because of his inability to maintain a planned, orderly migration system?”

Eric Sorensen: So, what is the government’s plan to combat those crossing into Canada, illegally? Joining us now from Montreal is Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen. Minister, thank you for joining us. You heard from Michelle Rempel there. She calls it a loophole that should be closed. What can you do specifically in terms of policy to end this scene that is happening with people coming to the border outside of the official border point and just being ushered into the country?

Minister Ahmed Hussen: Well they’re not just being ushered into the country, Eric. Each and every individual that crosses our border irregularly is arrested on the spot. They are then subjected to a very rigorous security screening. If they pose any risks to Canadian society, they are not released into the community. They’re immediately detained and they’re deported. They are not even given an opportunity to make an asylum claim if they present a risk to Canadian society.
Second, on the issue of the Safe Third Country Agreement, it’s an agreement between two countries: Canada and the United States. It’s an agreement that has worked really well for Canada in terms of the orderly management of asylum claimants. Having said that, the agreement is due for a modernization, it’s 14 years old. We’ve expressed our desire to begin modernizing it with the United States and those discussions are ongoing, although there are no formal negotiations yet.

Eric Sorensen: Even though these people can be dealt with, and ultimately many of them will simply go home, the world is full of desperate people and, you know, the numbers are increasing that are coming here with people willing to take a chance on that. And so is there anything more you can do to close up that border? I mean the idea, is there anything wrong with the idea of making the entire border an official border crossing?

Minister Ahmed Hussen: It’s actually a very unworkable idea. It’s really unworkable because it doesn’t take into account that if you make the 9,000 km border an official port of entry, then you would have to put customs officials at each of the 9,000 km. You literally have to put a customs official every 100 metres and so Ms. Rempel’s idea is simply unworkable. It is something that hasn’t been well thought out. The reason we have the longest undefended border is because 400,000 people, legitimate travellers cross the borders between Canada and the United States on a daily basis. We have 30,000 trucks that cross the border between Canada and the United States. Simply designating the entire border as an official port of entry is simply unworkable and would also need the cooperation of the United States.

Eric Sorensen: The Canadians are very welcoming. Is there a risk, though, with these images and the numbers of people that are coming across and throwing in their lot with the Canadian system, is there a risk of Canadians becoming less welcoming?

Minister Ahmed Hussen: First of all, let me be absolutely clear. We have had, since last year, a very aggressive and sustained outreach plan and an outreach program that has interacted and engaged over 600 community organizations, officials, diplomats and non-governmental organizations. And the message there is that we are an open country to regular migration. If you want to come and study or work in Canada, there are ways to do that to apply through official channels. We do not appreciate or welcome irregular migration. We believe that it’s illegal to do that. And the fact of the matter is when there is misinformation, we have corrected it. That outreach campaign has had an impact specifically, for example, with Haitian nationals and other TPS affected populations. We have invested $74 million as part of budget 2018 in the Immigration Refugee Board. The Immigration Refugee Board has recently announced that they will take a last in, first out approach to claims made by people who have crossed our border irregularly. That will mean that they will be able, because of our investments and further efficiencies that they’ve been able to achieve, they’ll be able to process over 17,000 asylum claims made by irregular migrants alone, in addition to clearing the other backlogs from before. So that would mean that in 12 months, they’ll be able to finalize cases quickly. Those that have a legitimate claim for refugee status remain in Canada and those who do not, get to be removed quickly. And I think that would send a very strong message that coming to Canada and crossing our border irregularly is not a free ticket to Canada.

Eric Sorensen: Do you see it, then, that there will be surge because we’re obviously in the midst of a surge, and the question is how big will that surge be that it will play its self out? And it will come because there is worry in Quebec, where so many are coming across. And the Mayor of Toronto is worried about what he’s going to do with however many hundreds that that city may have to take in, temporarily.

Minister Ahmed Hussen: First of all, as I said, in addition to our outreach program, we are making the necessary investments to the CBSA, to expediate and conduct more removals of failed claimants. We’ve invested more money in the Immigration Refugee Board so that claims can be heard faster, so that decisions can be made faster. Those who do not deserve Canada’s protection get to be removed. In addition to that, I was recently in Nigeria last week engaging with their senior officials. I met their foreign minister who has agreed to work with Canada and cooperate closely with us on the deterrence message, as well as issuing travel documents with the Nigerian nationals who are set to be removed from Canada. We’re working very closely with the provinces of Quebec and Ontario in the Intergovernmental Task Force on irregular migration. We have dealt with the pressure points through that task force. We have heard loud and clear from provinces that they are facing additional pressures with the respect to temporary housing and we will respond accordingly.

Eric Sorensen: Alright, Minister Hussen, thank you for talking to us.

Minister Ahmed Hussen: Thank you for having me.

Eric Sorensen: Up next: President Trump is threatening tariffs on auto imports as NAFTA negotiators struggle to get a deal on auto rules of origin. Now what happens?

[Break]

Eric Sorensen: Welcome back. NAFTA negotiators face a deadline this Thursday for a new deal so the U.S. Congress can vote on it before the midterm elections in November. And late last week, President Trump jumped in to scold this country, as Washington threatens big tariffs for the auto sector.

President Donald Trump: “NAFTA is very difficult. Mexico has been very difficult to deal with. Canada has been very difficult to deal with. They have been taking advantage of the United States for a long time. I am not happy with their requests but I will tell you, in the end, we win, we will win and we’ll win big. They’re very spoiled because nobody’s done this but I will tell you that what they ask for is not fair.”

Eric Sorensen: And joining us now from Toronto is Unifor President Jerry Dias. Jerry, President Trump says Canada is spoiled. We’re very difficult, the threat now of 25 per cent tariffs. First of all, on the tariffs, what would those do?

Jerry Dias: Well first all, he is a bizarre individual. Twenty-five per cent tariffs would be fatal for the Canadian industry. But first of all, we really don’t know who he’s aiming at. He talks about Canada. He talks about Mexico, but if he’s talking about a 25 per cent tariff globally, that would hit Europe, obviously the Asian market, Korea. So if he really does have a problem with the auto industry and imports into the United States, I would agree with him. About 4.5 million vehicles are brought in a year to Canada and the United States. We are the number one most dumped markets in the world. So, if you take a look at 4.5 million vehicles coming in from primarily, like I said, Japan, Europe, Korea, that’s 15 assembly plants. That’s 125,000 direct jobs. That’s another million spin-off jobs, so you are talking about a lot of jobs. And we’re talking about countries that don’t play fair. Japan: we can’t ship anything to Japan. We can’t ship anything to Korea. We ship very little to Europe. So if it’s talking about equalizing the trading relationship, well then there’s some sense to that but somehow coming after Canada on a 25 per cent auto tariff and saying that he’s going to invoke the trade clause 232 that somehow we’re a national threat to the United States is absolutely foolish. I mean, us a national threat to the United States? What are we going to arrest grade three students for making spitballs? I mean it’s just ridiculous. So let’s see where the dust settles.

Eric Sorensen: Well, yeah and that’s the point. Of course, in those comments he was not addressing Europe or Asian countries. He was talking about Canada. And is it a ploy? And if so, to what end? What is it that he wants to get because clearly he wants to get something that he can show the Trump voters who a lot of them were auto workers.

Jerry Dias: Well I’ve met three times with Wilbur Ross, the head of the commerce department and we both agree that the problem with the auto industry is not each other. It’s with the low wages in Mexico. We’ve closed four auto assembly plants here in Canada. They’ve closed 10 in the United States. They’ve opened eight in Mexico. They’re opening two next year. The BMW plant, if you can imagine, is going to pay their employees $1.10 an hour. So we all understand where the jobs are going. Jobs aren’t going from the United States to Canada and they’re not going from Canada to the United States. In the auto industry, they’re all going to Mexico. So I would suggest that we deal with the elephant in the room, which is the mass exodus of good auto jobs to Mexico. To somehow tie us all in and paint us with the same brush is counterproductive and foolish.

Eric Sorensen: If Mexico cannot, or will not, raise wages to the extent that would be called for, and you can imagine how difficult that would be within the total context of the Mexican economy, then where are you?

Jerry Dias: Well first of all, I don’t think it’s all that difficult within the context of the Mexican economy at all. Look, you’ve got a Mexican economy that’s based on exploitation. Over 50 per cent of the citizens of Mexico live in poverty. So they ended up receiving so many jobs from Canada and the United States but the Mexican workers were never compensated. So the fact that they’ve been exploited historically doesn’t mean that we should maintain that level of foolishness. There is no reason in this world why a Mexican auto worker ought not to be able to afford to buy the car that they built. So first of all, I don’t know what the rush is in getting NAFTA done. There will be a presidential election July 1st in Mexico. You will likely end up with a progressive left candidate, which is a heck of a lot better than the president they have today. Then we can really start talking about moving the needle in a significant way to make sure that Mexican workers indeed have a decent standard of living.

Eric Sorensen: There seems to be, though, this move to a deadline. By the end of this month, there’s talk of a skinny NAFTA, something that would very much talk about auto import rules and such. Is that doable?

Jerry Dias: I don’t think so at all. First of all, Mexico has not moved one iota since we started this in August of last year. So for them to make a quantum leap on wages, the elimination of yellow unions, free collective bargaining, for them to change the industrial system that they currently have today, within the next month, I doubt it. But over and above that, the United States has a lot of nerve. They have a lot of foolishness on the table that nobody’s going to agree to. I mean some of their proposals on procurement which gives us less access today than we have had historically, having all of the disputes within NAFTA handled in U.S. courts. I can start to walk through the list of outrageous proposals they have on the table that nobody will agree to. So we’ve got problems with Mexico and clearly, we have problems with the United States. So they can point the fingers at Mexico and they can point the finger at Canada. It’s quite easy for them to look in a mirror and see their shortcomings in some of their foolish arguments as well.

Eric Sorensen: If there is a changeover to a democratic Congress in November, does that change the equation at all, as far as you’re concerned?

Jerry Dias: Absolutely. The issue is one of jobs. So, it can’t be jobs to the exclusion, you know, in the United States, the exclusion of Canada or Mexico. Look, clearly, I would argue that a U.S. Congress understands what the problem is. I’ve met with Sandy Levin. I’ve talked to Democratic senators. The facts are is they understand the problem. The problem is the low labour standards in Mexico. There’s not a big problem in the auto industry in Canada and the United States. In fact, it’s basically even. About 65 per cent of all parts we put in Canadian assembled vehicles comes from the United States. So when it comes to auto, overall, we’re rather balanced but the clear imbalance is with Mexico.

Eric Sorensen: We only have a few seconds left. You know, we’ve been at this for months. You know, the Canadian language is getting a little more, strong about this. Do you feel we are close to some kind of a breakthrough or a break off?

Jerry Dias: No, I don’t think it’s going anywhere in the short term. I think the talks will continue, but there is no way that we can get this thing done in the short term. We’ve only closed about 10 tables. There are still about 25 outstanding. If from August of last year to now, we’ve only closed, like I said, less than a dozen tables, there’s no chance of getting two dozen more done in the short term. Not to a type of contentious issues that are still before us.

Eric Sorensen: Alright, Jerry Dias of the Unifor. Thank you for talking to us.

Jerry Dias: Have a great day. Thank you.

Eric Sorensen: Up next: we’ll ask Israel’s ambassador to Canada how he feels about this country calling for an independent investigation into the violence in Gaza earlier this month.

Minister Chrystia Freeland: “It is imperative that we establish the facts of what happened in Gaza, especially given the shooting of Canadian doctor, Tarek Loubani. That is why Canada is calling for an independent investigation to ascertain how the actions of all parties concerned contributed to these events, including reported incitement by Hamas.”

Eric Sorensen: Welcome back. That was Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland calling for an independent inquiry into the deadly violence in Gaza. It left one Canadian doctor injured and about 60 people, dead. The Israeli government says the protests and the violence were caused by the terrorist organization, Hamas. Much of the world called for an outside investigation, Israel says no.

Joining us now is Israel’s Ambassador to Canada, Nimrod Barkan. Ambassador, thank you for being with us. The Canadian government opposed a U.N. resolution that it felt was biased against Israel but still supports an independent investigation. You don’t like that idea, why?

Ambassador Nimrod Barkan: Well, first of all, I would like to refer to what Minister Freeland said. I don’t think that we really need further investigation into the behaviour of the Hamas because it is self-evident. The Hamas in all the video clips that you saw, and in all TV reporting’s were trying to tear down the fence between Israel and Gaza, breakthrough in order to carry out a program in the Israeli villages and towns along the Gaza Israeli borders, and that is why we have to make sure that they fail to do so. They sent before them, women and children, in order to prevent us from preventing them in their nefarious plans and we had to do everything we could to prevent the terrorists that came after the women and children from penetrating Israel and carrying out this terrible program.

Eric Sorensen: I asked for an independent investigation into that, though.

Ambassador Nimrod Barkan: I will not avoid the question.

Eric Sorensen: Okay.

Ambassador Nimrod Barkan: Secondly, there will be an independent investigation and it will be carried out by the Israeli judicial system. As many people in Canada who deal with justice know, and you can ask all the Supreme Court justices about that, Israeli judicial system is free, independent and not under the authority of the government. And we have established a mechanism for investigating the events in Gaza for every complaint that we get and we also are asking the Canadian government to help us question Dr. Rabbani when he gets back here about his experience so that we can look into the matter. So there will be an investigation. It will be independent and it will be carried out by Israel.

Eric Sorensen: People worry sometimes, though, that it won’t be seen as independent. It is such a contested part of the world. Gaza is not like any place else and that the idea of an outside agency would be seen as more even handed, just because there is such distrust between the two sides.

Ambassador Nimrod Barkan: Well, I don’t know what the meaning of outside investigation. The investigation that Canada spoke against in the Human Rights Council was an attempt to impose on Israel and the International Tribunal which is like a kangaroo court in view of the combination of the countries that are in the Human Rights Council. But we believe that our judicial system is more than capable and has proven itself in the past, several times, to investigate whatever claims that are being brought. And first things first, we would like to ask that the Canadian government cooperate with us in the questioning of Dr. Rabbani. We propose to do it this week and hopefully that will take place.

Eric Sorensen: Among the claims was a lack of proportionality that when 60 people ended up dying. Do you think that the findings could come up with something that says there was wrongdoing or there was more force than necessary?

Ambassador Nimrod Barkan: Well, every finding will be separate, according to every complaint. And there have been instances in the past in which soldiers and officers were put on trial because the judge advocate general of the military has concluded they overstepped their instructions. So that can happen here, too. There’s no question about that but first of all, we need to do it. An outside inquiry would be a total politicization of justice in attempt to crucify Israel and not to investigate the cases.

Eric Sorensen: How do you feel about Canada siding on the issue with many other countries for what they call and independent investigation? There was a time under Prime Minister Stephen Harper that Canada was seen more within, I’d say, the orbit of Israeli views on issues like this. Many of the votes that happen at the U.N., it was just Canada, U.S., Australia together against the world. Do you see Canada as even handed?

Ambassador Nimrod Barkan: The voting pattern of Canada in the international organizations has continued under this government, as it was under Prime Minister Harper. So, I think the friendship between Israel and Canada has been proven. But, as you can imagine, we disagreed with the statement that was made. We felt that it accused Israel unfairly and we feel that there was not enough understanding of the danger that the Hamas attempted the breakthrough into Israel under the rubric of return which means calling for the destruction of Israel was tried. And we look forward to Canada realizing the danger that the Hamas not so innocent protests pose to us.

Eric Sorensen: Canada is looking for a seat on the Security Council. There are a lot of Arab countries with a lot of votes. Do you think there’s any kind of Canadian calculation that is taking that into account as it positions itself on issues like this?

Ambassador Nimrod Barkan: This question, you should ask the Canadian government, not the Israeli government.

Eric Sorensen: Well, I didn’t know if you had a view on that. The Prime Minister Netanyahu has called Jerusalem the undivided capital. Do you see in a more perfect world that east Jerusalem could be the capital for the Palestinians?

Ambassador Nimrod Barkan: Well, Israel would see its capital undivided. The various ideas that exist into incorporating the very large Palestinian presence in the city, with the Jewish presence in the city, have been discussed in the past. Unfortunately, the problem is that the Palestinians are not willing to negotiate right now, so there is no way in which we can explore such ideas. And the problem is that the Palestinians refuse to accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and refuse to negotiate with it. And that is really the major stumbling block in any potential progress.

Eric Sorensen: And the last thing that some people see, as also a stumbling block, though, is the expansion of Israeli control and the disputed territories and that that is not moving things more towards peace but it continues to kind of just fire up opposition.

Ambassador Nimrod Barkan: History has proved. Look at the history of the Israeli-Egyptian negotiations, that many things can happen when the atmosphere changes. But as I said, the problem is that the Palestinian leadership at the moment does not want to negotiate. So of course, nothing can be done at the moment.

Eric Sorensen: Ambassador Barkan, thank you for talking to us.

Ambassador Nimrod Barkan: Thank you very much for having me.

Eric Sorensen: And that is our show for today. Thanks for watching. I’m Eric Sorensen. See you next week.

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