Flow of asylum seekers at irregular border crossing a source of tension between Canada and U.S.
Radio-Canada has learned that the Trudeau government has reached a deal with the United States on irregular migration which will allow Ottawa to close the Roxham Road irregular crossing at the Canada-U.S. border.
Sources told Radio-Canada that Ottawa has agreed to welcome a certain number of migrants through official channels. The precise details of the deal are still not known.
Roxham Road is on the Quebec-New York border about 50 km south of Montreal. It has been a lingering source of tension between Ottawa, Quebec and the United States because of an influx of asylum seekers entering Canada through it.
The news comes just ahead of U.S. President Joe Biden's first official visit to Canada as president. Biden will arrive in Ottawa Thursday and depart late on Friday. It's not clear whether the deal will be announced during or after the visit.
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"I think it's good news. I know you'd like to know more. You will be knowing more quite soon from my colleagues and the prime minister," Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos told reporters Thursday.
Watch and listen to U.S. President Joe Biden's first official visit to Canada on CBC News: Special live coverage starts Friday at 1 p.m. ET on CBC TV, CBC News Network, CBC Gem, the CBC News App and YouTube, and at 1:30 p.m. ET on CBC Radio and the CBC Listen app.
Opposition parties and the Quebec government have pressured the Trudeau government on Roxham Road. Both Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre and Quebec Premier François Legault have called for the irregular border crossing's closure following a spike in asylum seekers this year. Legault said the number of asylum seekers has put a strain on his province's social services.
Nearly two-thirds of asylum claims in Canada in 2022 were made in Quebec, according to government data. Almost 40,000 asylum seekers crossed the border from Roxham Road that year. The migrants were mainly from Haiti, Turkey, Colombia, Chile, Pakistan and Venezuela.
Trudeau said last month that the only way to shut down Roxham is to renegotiate the Safe Third Country Agreement. But United States Ambassador David Cohen said that would do little to address irregular migration.
The Safe Third Country Agreement prevents people from claiming asylum in Canada if they enter Canada from the U.S. at an official land border crossing. The idea is that asylum seekers should make their claim in the first safe country they can reach. The agreement came into force in 2004.
Asylum seekers can still have their appeals heard in Canada if they enter at an unofficial crossing such as Roxham.
Sources told Radio-Canada that Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Sean Fraser have worked behind the scenes with their American counterparts in recent weeks to reach a deal.
New York City has paid for bus tickets to send asylum seekers through to Plattsburgh, New York, which is close to Roxham Road.
The NDP has called for the suspension of the Safe Third Country Agreement.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he'd still like to see that happen. He said he doesn't know the details of the Roxham deal.
"If the solution solves the problem, it's something we're open to," he said. "Our preferred option is still to suspend the agreement, but we're open to other solutions."
This story has been updated from a previous version which said New York state paid for bus tickets for asylum seekers. In fact, it was New York City.Mar 23, 2023 2:17 PM ET
With files from Christian Paas-Lang and Darren Major
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