OTTAWA — The Liberal government should designate the illegal entry points into Canada being used by hundreds of asylum seekers a day as official crossings, says Opposition leader Andrew Scheer.
That's one way the government could put a halt to a situation that is creating not just havoc at the border but within the Canadian immigration system itself, Scheer said Thursday in an interview.
"The prime minister has known that this was coming for eight months now and has done nothing about it," Scheer said.
"He's now bringing out measures to manage the situation but nothing to actually deal with it in the first place."
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Nearly 10,000 people have been apprehended crossing illegally into Canada from the U.S. since January, primarily at points in Manitoba and Quebec. Since July, there's been a major spike in crossings in Quebec in particular — the RCMP intercepted 3,800 people there in the first two weeks of August alone.
The reason they're choosing those informal border entry points is the agreement between Canada and the U.S. that precludes people from making asylum claims at official land border points, with some exceptions.
Dozens of lawyers, refugee advocates and academics have called in recent weeks for the Safe Third Country Agreement to be suspended.
They argue that in the wake of major changes in American immigration policy, the U.S. can no longer be considered a safe country.
They say that if the deal was put on pause, at least those leaving the U.S. to seek asylum here could then do so legally and safely.
Scheer said he feels many factors are driving people to come north from the U.S., not just the immigration policy changes under U.S. President Donald Trump.
The country remains safe, Scheer said, and so the agreement shouldn't be suspended, but expanded.
In addition to declaring Lacolle, Que., and Emerson, Man., as formal points of entry, the Liberals could start the process to see the agreement apply at all Canada-U.S. border points.
Another option he's proposing is that the government formally declare the arrivals as "irregular" which could see them detained and have restrictions placed on their immigration status.
Any of the actions would have an impact, he said.
The prime minister has known that this was coming for eight months now and has done nothing about it.
"One, it would have a practical consequence on dealing with the problem as it happens," he said.
"It would also send that much needed signal to all those in the United States who think that they can just come over and be in a better situation."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday the agreement with the U.S. is not up for review.
He said what's happening at the border is under control and though he admonished those crossing not to think they're getting any advantage, he's so far stopped short from telling them not to come.
Scheer said Canadians aren't buying it.
"The message back to the prime minister is Canadians don't trust you to manage the situation or to stop what's happening," Scheer said.
"And I think that's what Canadians want to see."