HEMMINGFORD, Quebec (Reuters) - Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer pledged on Wednesday that if elected his party would take steps to limit illegal border crossings by migrants who first travel to the United States and then proceed to Canada.
FILE PHOTO: Leader of Canada's Conservatives Andrew Scheer campaigns for the upcoming election near the U.S. border with Canada in Hemmingford, Quebec, Canada October 9, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio
The Conservatives would “prioritize newcomers from violent and dangerous countries, and restore Canadians’ faith in an immigration system that has served this country so well for so long,” Scheer said at a press conference in Hemmingford, Quebec.
Since 2004, the Safe Third Country Agreement has required immigrants to make refugee claims in the first country they arrive. If a person arrives in Canada by unregulated means from the United States, they can apply for refugee status in Canada.
Scheer pledged to close a loophole that allows immigrants to seek asylum if they cross the border into Canada at an unofficial point of entry, such as Roxham Road in Quebec which was once a footpath from New York state known for its use by migrants.
Scheer acknowledged Canada is not subject to the “same migratory pressures as other countries in the world.”
Canadians go to the polls on Oct 21 and the Conservatives are currently tied in national polls with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals. Scheer’s party also faces competition for votes from the newly-formed right-wing People’s Party of Canada, which favors cutting immigration levels by two-thirds.
Canada received its highest number of refugee claims in 2018 since record-keeping began three decades ago, according to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRBC). The loophole in the agreement has been partly blamed.
Trudeau has not proposed any changes in immigration policy, but said at a Wednesday press conference “there are no shortcuts” in Canada’s immigration system.
Irregular border crossings into Canada fell to less than 7,000 in the first six months of 2019 from almost 12,000 in the same period of 2018, according to IRBC data.
Scheer said confidence in the immigration system was falling because of Trudeau. One survey, published in June by Canadian research firm Leger, found 67% of Canadians supported limiting immigration. But immigration is not polling as a major issue in the election, and studies from the Pew Research Center and the OECD in August found Canada has a high level of support for welcoming immigrants compared to global trends.
“For Canadians to have faith in the immigration system, the rules have to be followed, and the laws have to be enforced,” Scheer said.
When asked about the possibility of renegotiating the agreement with U.S. President Donald Trump, who has made limiting immigration a top priority, Scheer said he preferred to work “through partnership” but added “there are other tools available.”
Reporting by Carlos Osario; Writing by Moira Warburton; Editing by David Gregorio