A major Canada-U.S. border rule change is now in effect

Click to play video: 'Roxham Road irregular crossing to close at midnight Friday'
Roxham Road irregular crossing to close at midnight Friday
WATCH ABOVE: Roxham Road irregular crossing to close at midnight Friday – Mar 24, 2023

Canada and the United States have agreed to implement the Safe Third Country Agreement across the entire shared land border, in an effort to deter irregular migrant crossings at unofficial entryways like Roxham Road.

The change will take effect at midnight Saturday, according to a joint statement from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday.

“After midnight tonight, police and border officers will enforce the agreement and return irregular border crossers to the closest port of entry with the United States,” Trudeau later said at a press conference alongside Biden.

Click to play video: 'Canada, U.S. implementation of Safe Third Country agreement across border begins Saturday: Trudeau'
Canada, U.S. implementation of Safe Third Country agreement across border begins Saturday: Trudeau

Canada has also agreed to welcome an additional 15,000 migrants from the Western Hemisphere over the next year as part of the agreement.

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The deal comes during Biden’s first official trip to Canada as president. The details were released shortly after he finished delivering an address to a joint session of Parliament in the House of Commons.

Since 2004, the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) has required that asylum seekers make their claim in the first “safe” country they reach. In practice, it has meant that border officials in Canada turn back would-be asylum seekers who show up at official checkpoints from the U.S. But they have not been required to turn back asylum seekers who cross irregularly at places such as Roxham Road in Quebec.

Last year, nearly 40,000 migrants entered Canada through Roxham Road, according to federal data. In December alone, the crossing saw 4,689 migrants enter — more than all would-be refugees who arrived in Canada in 2021.

Click to play video: 'What deals were reached with Trudeau on Biden’s trip to Canada'
What deals were reached with Trudeau on Biden’s trip to Canada

The growing surge in migrant crossings at Roxham Road and other unofficial entry points like Emerson, Man., has strained resources in nearby communities — particularly Montreal — and sparked calls from Quebec Premier François Legault and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre for the federal government to close Roxham Road entirely.

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Trudeau had said before Biden’s visit that the STCA should be renegotiated to address irregular crossings. But a government source told Global News Thursday that officials in both Canada and the U.S. were seeking to avoid opening up the agreement to amendments, which would require approval from a closely divided U.S. Senate.

Both sides, that source said, wanted a solution that can be implemented quickly.

Click to play video: 'Biden arrives in Canada for first visit as U.S. president'
Biden arrives in Canada for first visit as U.S. president

Questions remain on how the entire 5,000-kilometre land border will be secured in order to turn back asylum seekers, however.

“I think that would be really problematic and very difficult to enforce,” Pearl Eliadis, an associate professor at McGill University who studies immigration and human rights, told Global News in an earlier interview.

“How are you going to do that? Are we going to build a wall? This is not, I think, where we want to go with this.”

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Enforcement will be important, she added, suggesting unofficial crossings like Roxham Road — where migrants are still met by RCMP, border patrol and immigration officials — have done some good despite the burden faced by social services.

“If you didn’t have Roxham Road, you would have no idea where they were going,” she said. “You would have no idea what their names were. You would have no idea what their status was, if their families were inquiring after them because someone disappeared.”

The agreement was immediately criticized by some who feel it could endanger the safety of asylum seekers by preventing them from getting needed support from both governments.

“We urge President Biden to strongly reconsider this deal and to work with Congress to restore access to asylum and support policies that recognize the dignity of all those arriving at our borders,” said Danilo Zak, associate director for policy and advocacy for the humanitarian group CWS, also known as Church World Services. The organization advocates for people across the world who have been forced from their homes.

Click to play video: 'Roxham Road: The long journey and uncertain end migrants face trying to enter Canada'
Roxham Road: The long journey and uncertain end migrants face trying to enter Canada

Migration across the northern border has also strained the U.S. Border Patrol, whose agents stopped migrants entering illegally from Canada 628 times in February — more than five times the same period a year earlier.

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Those numbers pale compared to migrants entering from Mexico — where they were stopped more than 220,000 times in December alone — but it is still a massive change in percentage terms.

Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives, where immigration at the southern border is a top priority, recently formed the new Northern Border Security Caucus to argue a crackdown on migration and the trafficking of deadly fentanyl and opioids is also needed in the north.

Trudeau and Biden announced Friday their two countries would strengthen and expand its multi-agency crackdown on cross-border drug trafficking to address the issue. Canada will also join the U.S. in a “global coalition” to combat synthetic drugs, they said.

NORAD investments sped up, no mission to Haiti

The two leaders also announced a slew of other joint initiatives and funding , including a timeline for the first steps being taken to modernize NORAD, the shared continental defence system.

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Canada will commit part of a $6.96 billion investment in surveillance system modernization toward two over-the-horizon radar systems that will broaden NORAD’s surveillance capabilities further north and detect modern threats in the Arctic from other nations like Russia and China.

The first system will be located in Southern Ontario and be operational by 2028, Trudeau confirmed, and will complement a future system in the Canadian High Arctic.

Click to play video: 'President Joe Biden arrives in Canada'
President Joe Biden arrives in Canada

Defence officials said earlier this month the systems were being prioritized at an accelerated rate in collaboration with the U.S., in an effort to address “gaps” in Arctic surveillance and detecting foreign threats.

That need was made acute last month when a Chinese spy balloon and three other unidentified objects were identified flying in North American airspace.

Click to play video: 'Trudeau says Safe 3rd Country Agreement needs renegotiation amid Roxham Road illegal crossings'
Trudeau says Safe 3rd Country Agreement needs renegotiation amid Roxham Road illegal crossings

In addition, $7.3 billion will be dedicated to supporting the arrival of new F-35 fighter jets to replace Canada’s aging air force fleet. This will include airfield improvements to ensure fueling and personnel accommodations.

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The funding for both initiatives will come from the nearly $40 billion in investments over the next 20 years previously announced by the federal government.

However, it remains unclear how much of that spending is actually new money.

New funding was also announced to support Haiti, which has been plagued by deadly gang violence and supply shortages that have helped fuel the broader refugee crisis in the Western Hemisphere.

Canada has been pressed by the U.S., the Haitian government and other allies to lead an international security force to Haiti to deter the violence, which Trudeau and military officials have pushed back against.

Instead, Canada will invest an additional $100 million to provide additional support and equipment to the Haitian National Police. Additional Haitian elites will also face sanctions.

“We are determined to increase international support for Haiti, including through humanitarian assistance,” Trudeau said Friday.

Click to play video: 'Trudeau announces additional $100M for police support in Haiti, Biden says situation ‘difficult’'
Trudeau announces additional $100M for police support in Haiti, Biden says situation ‘difficult’

Biden told reporters a future military mission to Haiti was “not off the table” but was “not in play” at the moment, without mentioning if Canada would still be pressed to lead such an operation.

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Trudeau and Biden also promised a new one-year joint energy task force, to be chaired by Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and the U.S. special presidential co-ordinator for global infrastructure. The group will focus on renewable energy, electric vehicles, critical minerals and nuclear energy.

—With files from Farah Nasser, Eric Stober and the Canadian Press

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