Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is calling for the federal government to close the Roxham Road border crossing within 30 days amid a rising influx of migrants entering Quebec irregularly and spurring calls from Quebec leaders who say their communities cannot keep up with the pace.
Speaking to reporters in Ottawa on Tuesday, Poilievre laid the blame for the surge of migrants squarely at the feet of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who he accused of encouraging irregular crossings at Roxham Road and not addressing a backlog of refugee claims.
Read more: Quebec premier pitches English Canada for closure of Roxham Road and transfer of migrants
The Conservative leader argued that Trudeau had already demonstrated Roxham Road could be closed without violating the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic, and urged the government to do so again — failing to mention the entire border was shut down during that time.
“If we are a real country, we have borders. And if this is a real prime minister, he is responsible for those borders,” he said.
The Safe Third Country Agreement requires asylum seekers arriving in Canada or the U.S. to make their claim in the first country they arrive in and forbids them from first arriving in one country and then making a claim in another. However, migrants who cross the border between official posts can claim asylum after they are intercepted by police as they are already on Canadian soil.
Poilievre’s comments come as Quebec Premier Francois Legault this week called on Trudeau to make the Roxham Road crossings a top priority for next month’s meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden and to renegotiate the agreement.
He reportedly told Trudeau in a letter on Sunday the pact has pushed asylum seekers to Roxham Road, and that a renegotiated treaty should apply to all entry points.
On Tuesday, the Globe and Mail published an English-language letter by Legault where he said the number of would-be asylum seekers entering Quebec “has exploded,” pushing the province’s social services to their limits. The premier also pitched other provinces to take in some of those migrants.
The public letter did not include concerns reportedly expressed by Legault in his letter to Trudeau that the influx of migrants is threatening the French language in Montreal, or his request for more money to pay for the costs of caring for asylum seekers.
Federal statistics show that more than 39,000 people claimed asylum after they were intercepted by the RCMP crossing Canada’s land border into Quebec in 2022, compared with only 369 in the rest of the country.
In total, around 64 per cent of all asylum claims in Canada in 2022 were made in Quebec.
Last year’s numbers were a sharp increase from 2021, when 4,095 migrants were intercepted on Quebec’s southern border.
Poilievre did not offer specifics about how to address the immigration backlog — currently sitting at more than 910,000 applications — but did say money can be redirected from policing the irregular crossing to bolstering the legal immigration system, which he said would help reduce wait times.
“We probably have the best immigration system in the entire world. But Trudeau is breaking it,” he said.
Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said in a statement to Global News that proposing to close Roxham Road within 30 days “without advancing a plan to manage the consequences will not solve the problem” and would only promote more irregular border crossings elsewhere.
“The ideas put forward by Pierre Poilievre are not only reckless, but they lack depth and understanding,” Fraser said.
“As Canada works to navigate a global migration crisis, it is our responsibility to implement real, long-term solutions.”
- What to expect from budget 2023 as ‘storm clouds’ gather over Canada’s economy
- Israel’s embassy in Canada is now closed as Netanyahu seeks judicial changes. Why?
- Global Affairs Canada slammed in audit for not tracking billions in foreign aid
- Military’s new housing plan under fire over living allowance cut
Fraser acknowledged that Quebec has faced “immense pressure” and said Ottawa has transferred thousands of migrants elsewhere in Canada since last June.
A spokesperson for Fraser’s office clarified that to date, those transfers have been to Ontario, but a “pan-Canadian” approach is in the works.
“We are continuing to work with other provinces and municipalities to identify communities that have the capacity to accommodate additional asylum claimants as we work toward a long-term solution,” Fraser said in his statement.
The minister also encouraged people who want to enter Canada to consider other ways to enter the country.
— with files from The Canadian Press