Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continued to face criticism on Tuesday over his decision to stay silent amid a growing chorus of international condemnation of the Trump administration’s detention of child migrants, as well as domestic calls to withdraw from the Safe Third Country Agreement.
The swell of outrage in recent days comes as a clearer picture emerges of how American border officials are separating thousands of children from migrant families and keeping them caged in detention facilities as part of the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy towards illegal migration.
“It is time to denounce this inhumane situation,” said NDP House Leader Guy Caron in question period on Tuesday.
“The government must do what it can and suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement.”
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Transport Minister Marc Garneau responded to the question on Tuesday only by commenting on Canada’s own approach to child detention.
“When a family of asylum seekers comes to our country, we do everything we can to prevent them being separated,” he said.
Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said that the government is required to monitor immigration rules of the countries it has immigration agreements with and is doing so with the United States, but defended the Safe Third Country Agreement.
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Trudeau was not in the House of Commons on Tuesday but on Monday dodged questions about why the government was staying silent.
He has repeatedly proclaimed that “Canada is back” and “here to help” on the world stage — and in particular, the United Nations — but told NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan that demands for him to condemn the detention of children were “playing politics.”
“From the very beginning, I have been very clear on the role that Canadians expect of me — to stand up firmly and unequivocally for our values, for our interests, to protect Canadians and to make sure that we’re doing well, as well as having a constructive relationship with the United States,” Trudeau told the House of Commons when questioned on his silence during question period on Monday.
“That’s what we’re going to remain focused on.”
The Canadian government has also detained immigrant children, roughly 242 between 2010 and 2014.
Human Rights Watch says 227 were detained in the Toronto immigration facility between 2011 and 2015.
In 2017, following public outcry, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale issued a directive ordering Canada Border Service Agency officers to avoid separating families and to keep children out of detention in all possible circumstances.
However, the directive did not prohibit the detention of children, period.
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Over the last two years, the question of how to deal with the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant rhetoric has been one lobbed at the Canadian government again and again.
One of the demands at the centre of those concerns — which is renewed now in light of his detention of children — is whether it is time to amend the Safe Third Country Agreement.
The agreement sets out the requirement for asylum seekers to make their application in the first country they arrive in, whether that be Canada or the United States.
It is based on the assumption that the immigration systems in both countries are equally fair and robust in their consideration of such claims.
But since Trump was elected, critics have called on the government to amend the agreement.
His anti-immigrant rhetoric has been suggested as a cause for a spike in illegal border crossings by asylum seekers who arrived in the U.S. intending to make a claim only to decide that they might have better luck with the Canadian immigration system.
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Given the detention and separation of families, there have been renewed calls for the government to evaluate the agreement.
Hussen said on Monday, the government is assessing that matter.
“We have to see the impact of these changes on the domestic asylum system in the U.S. to see whether the U.S. continues to meet its obligations, not just to the international community, but also to the Safe Third Country Agreement,” he said in a scrum with reporters.
Growing demands for Trudeau to condemn the detention of children also come amid scathing comments from the French government about the policy.
In comments made to the France 2 television station, French government spokesperson Benjamin Griveaux said the actions represent a schism in values between the European Union and France with the United States.
France gifted the Statue of Liberty to the American government in 1886.
It commemorated the support France gave to the colonies during the American Revolution to create their own democratic government, free from a monarchy.
Griveaux said in light of the detentions, the historic allies “do not share the same model of civilization.”
“Clearly, we don’t share certain values,” he said.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, as well as former first lady Laura Bush, leaders from faith communities, international human rights groups as well as a growing number of Republican legislators, are all condemning the policy.
Trump, however, has indicated no sign he will relent.