In 2017, few Canadians had ever heard of the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) – a border pact between Canada and the United States that allows each country to block certain would-be refugees from making asylum claims at official ports of entry.
But when the number of people making refugee claims between ports of entry spiked two years ago – jumping from 23,350 in 2016 to more than 47,000 in 2017 – the agreement and the loophole that allows these claims to go forward suddenly became much more important.
So where do the parties and their leaders stand on the STCA and what proposals are they making to address the sudden spike in asylum claims?
Green Party says ‘scrap it’
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says the STCA has to go.
May has called on the government to scrap the agreement, saying it’s clear that under U.S. President Donald Trump, the American system for processing refugees is in “disarray” and that the agreement diminishes the rights of would-be refugees seeking protection in Canada.
WATCH: CBSA struggles to keep up with asylum seeker influx
May has also raised concerns about whether the U.S. is actually a safe place for refugees — especially those who allege persecution due to gender-based violence and sexual orientation.
“Canada needs to step up to the plate and accept that many of these people are fleeing persecution or disaster for the second time,” May said in March. “We need to allow them to go through the same processing as refugees would if they were to present at regular points of entry, not add to their suffering.”
NDP says ‘suspend it’
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has publicly criticized the treatment of would-be refugees in the U.S. — especially children — saying it’s “absolutely clear” that asylum seekers in the States need to someplace else to go.
“(Refugees) are no longer safe under the Trump administration — and we need to do something about it,” Singh said in June 2018, referring to a widely condemned policy made by the Trump administration to separate migrant children from their parents.
“To separate kids from their parents is an act that is so deplorable and so inhumane that it speaks to a complete corruption of morality of this administration,” Singh said.
The NDP also says suspending the STCA would promote “safety, security and efficiency” at the Canada-U.S. border by allowing asylum seekers who no longer feel safe in America to make refugee claims at an official border crossing rather than crossing irregularly.
Liberals say ‘stay the course’
Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau has routinely rejected calls to suspend or cancel the STCA.
Instead, the Liberals point to their record over the past two years responding to the influx of asylum seekers, saying newly introduced measures are enough to make sure the system remains fair for everyone — including those in need of asylum.
For example, in July, the Liberals imposed a new ineligibility rule at the border that blocks would-be refugees from making an asylum claim in Canada if they had previously made a claim in another country, such as the U.S.
WATCH: Trudeau defends refugee system, says higher numbers due to global instability
As part of the 2019 budget, the Liberals also pledged $1.2 billion in new money for the Immigration and Refugee Board and for the Canada Border Services Agency to promote faster refugee processing and improve border security.
With this new funding, the Liberals say the IRB should be able to process 50,000 claims a year — roughly double the number of claims it was funded for before the sudden jump in claims in 2017.
But these moves have also sparked criticism.
Conservatives say the Liberals’ plan doesn’t go far enough, while immigration lawyers and migration experts have questioned the constitutionality of expanded ineligibility rules at the border.
Conservatives say ‘close the loophole’
The Conservatives are the only major party calling for enhancements to the STCA.
Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer says the agreement needs to be strengthened and that the flow of irregular migration — especially at Roxham Road in Quebec — needs to stop. To do this, Scheer proposes closing the loophole that allows asylum seekers to make claims when they arrive at unofficial Canada-U.S. border crossings.
Exactly how this would be accomplished, however, remains to be seen. That’s because the Conservatives’ immigration plan provides no specific details on how the loophole would be closed.
WATCH: Scheer says he’ll end ‘illegal’ border crossings as prime minister
But immigration experts, as well as the government, have rejected this idea, saying it’s unfeasible and that it would encourage smuggling and other criminal activities at the border.
Still, Conservatives insist closing the loophole in the STCA is essential to maintaining the integrity of Canada’s immigration system and that doing so would make refugee processing fairer and more orderly.
Scheer has also said that shutting the door to irregular migrants would allow more resources to be spent helping refugees around the world, including those in UN-run refugee camps that Canadians privately sponsor to come to Canada.
“There’s nothing compassionate about forcing people to wait longer who are in refugee camps, in places where there is civil war, where they will be killed if they leave those camps,” Scheer said in September.