POLITICS
07/05/2018 18:38 EDT | Updated 07/06/2018 10:46 EDT

Justin Trudeau Says He Had To Explain Canada’s Refugee System To Doug Ford

He said it wasn't obvious the premier was aware of Canada's international obligations.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford sits with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the Ontario legislature in Toronto on July 5, 2018.
Chris Young/The Canadian Press
Ontario Premier Doug Ford sits with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the Ontario legislature in Toronto on July 5, 2018.

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he spent some time explaining the nuances of Canada's refugee system to Ontario Premier Doug Ford during their first meeting.

Trudeau met with Ford at Queen's Park in Toronto for the first time since the Ontario election. Shortly before the meeting, the Ontario government blamed Ottawa for creating a "mess" of a housing crisis due to the influx of asylum seekers crossing into Canada.

"It didn't seem to me that the premier was quite as aware of our international obligations to the UN convention on refugees as he might have been," Trudeau told reporters in a frank moment. "So I spent a little time explaining how the asylum seeking system works and how our system is supposed to operate."

Watch: Trudeau says he explained asylum-seeking system to Doug Ford

The prime minister said he "attempted" to reassure Ford that the immigration and refugee systems are separate, and that any migrants coming to Canada for purely economic reasons are sent home.

Canada will continue to ensure its immigration and refugee system is applied responsibly, Trudeau said, adding it's "important" for leaders to protect how Canadians generally view immigration "very positively."

'This is not a choice, this is the law'

During a meeting of the ad hoc intergovernmental task force on irregular migration in Ottawa Wednesday, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen gave no indication that there was any bad blood between him and his Ontario counterparts.

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Ontario's Children, Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod reportedly told the task force that the province would be pulling its co-operation in helping to resettle asylum seekers.

Hussen's spokesman Mathieu Genest told HuffPost that Canada has international obligations to uphold if someone arrives at the border, pleading for help and protection.

"It is our legal obligation to provide them with due process. This is not a choice, this is the law."

AFP/Getty Images
A long line of asylum seekers wait to cross the Canada-U.S. border near Champlain, N.Y. on Aug. 6, 2017.

Canada is bound to the United Nations' 1951 convention relating to the status of refugees and 1967 Protocol. It stipulates Canada must offer safe haven to anyone with a founded "fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group, as well as those at risk of torture or cruel and unusual treatment or punishment."

On the UN convention level, it's typically federal jurisdiction.

Different levels of government may not always see eye-to-eye, but the people of Ontario benefit when they do, Genest said.

He explained federal and municipal officials have been in close contact to find solutions to Toronto's at-capacity situation with the city's intake of asylum seekers.

"We remain committed to supporting Toronto as they face pressures to their housing system. Minister Hussen has been in regular contact with Mayor Tory and we hope to see Ontario join these discussions."