The House of Commons immigration committee will meet at least two more times over the next couple of weeks to study the issue of asylum seekers crossing the Canada-U.S. border, it was decided on Monday, and three federal ministers will be invited to testify.
The Conservatives and NDP had jointly requested an emergency meeting of the committee last week, triggering Monday’s unusual sit-down on Parliament Hill during the height of the summer break.
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That initial meeting was simply to decide whether to proceed with further study of the government’s approach to the situation at the border.
The committee, on which the Liberals hold a majority of seats, has decided it will study both “the impact” of the irregular border crossings and the government’s response.
“It is not a crisis as outlined,” noted Liberal MP and committee member Gary Anandasangaree.
“It’s an ongoing issue that we’ve been reviewing on an ongoing basis, but I think this will give us an opportunity to set the record straight.”
The Opposition wanted at least two follow-up meetings scheduled for testimony to be heard before Aug. 3, and made it clear that the witness list should include Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen and representatives from affected provinces, including Ontario and Quebec.
Again, they mostly got what they wanted.
Hussen will be invited to appear, along with Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Jean-Yves Duclos. Up to 10 witnesses could appear in total, said committee chair and Liberal MP Rob Oliphant.
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Over 31,300 people have crossed the Canada-U.S. border between legal checkpoints since January 2017.
The number of monthly crossings has been falling significantly since April, but still isn’t back down to the levels seen in the spring of 2017.
“I’m going to try and do this is in as [much of] a non-partisan manner as possible,” said Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel before laying out her reasons for requesting the study in a 20-minute speech to the committee.
Those reasons included wanting to ensure that the current flow is managed in a way that makes fiscal sense and that money isn’t being allocated “piecemeal.” Rempel also explained that she wants to see a more formalized, detailed plan in place for housing asylum seekers and covering the provincial costs linked to the arrivals over the long term.
LISTEN: MP Michelle Rempel joins Danielle Smith to discuss why there is a crisis of irregular immigration to Canada
Finally, she said, the Conservatives want the government to explain how it will ensure that the overall immigration system is not overburdened by the border crossings.
The Conservatives have been calling on the Liberals to close a loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S. that is at the heart of why so many asylum seekers are crossing illegally. The government has argued that it cannot suspend the agreement unilaterally.
“All of our major political parties support immigration … [but] we’ve seen a marked departure from normal immigration processes,” Rempel said Monday.
NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan took a similar amount of time to address her committee colleagues, explaining that her party wants to ensure that Canada’s asylum system remains fair and compassionate, and takes into account the changing climate for immigrants in the United States. She argued that the U.S. is no longer a safe country for refugees.
Monday’s meeting came just days after Hussen publicly clashed with Ontario’s minister responsible for immigration, Lisa MacLeod, at a meeting in Winnipeg.