OTTAWA — If elected prime minister, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says he would put an end to “illegal” border crossings in Canada.
Scheer included that as one of several general commitments outlined in a speech delivered in Toronto Tuesday outlining his vision for immigration in Canada — part of a series of policy announcements ahead of the fall federal election.
Speaking to a crowd of supporters at a conference centre, Scheer said he would close a loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the United States that has allowed asylum-seekers who slip into the country by avoiding border checkpoints to make refugee claims that would be automatically rejected at official crossings.
“I will work to put an end to illegal border crossings at unofficial points of entry like Roxham Road,” he said, citing the busiest such crossing point where two rural roads in Quebec and New York practically touch. He added that he believes the loophole in the agreement allows these irregular migrants to “skip the line and avoid the queue.”
Scheer told the crowd he believes Canadians have lost confidence in the fairness of the immigration system thanks to the influx of irregular migrants. Since the beginning of 2017, over 43,000 asylum seekers have arrived in Canada through unofficial entry points.
He placed the blame squarely on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, accusing him of undermining not only the integrity of the border but of causing a growing number of Canadians to believe that immigration levels should be reduced.
A number of polls over the last year have shown a growing concern among Canadians over the numbers of newcomers Canada accepts each year.
Scheer said he has heard these concerns most often voiced by new Canadians who have “played by the rules and arrived in Canada fair and square.”
“They are the most offended at Trudeau’s status quo, where some are able to jump queues, exploit loopholes and game the system.”
Scheer said he is confident he can restore Canadians’ trust in the immigration system with his own approach to immigration policy — changes that would include: improved language training, better recognition of work credentials and refocusing the government-sponsored refugee program on victims of atrocities.
He also pledged to work toward reuniting survivors of genocide who have already resettled in Canada, such as Yazidi women and girls, with their families and promised to promote more private sponsorships of refugees.
He further reiterated his intention to bring back the office of religious freedom, a unit in Global Affairs Canada that advocated for threatened religious minorities.
As for the numbers of newcomers admitted each year in Canada, Scheer acknowledged it is a controversial topic.
But he called the debate about immigration levels a ”red herring” because on either side, political ideology is put ahead of the economic and social realities in Canada: that as Baby Boomers retire, Canada will need skilled newcomers to fill labour gaps and secure economic growth.