Scheer pledges to close asylum 'loophole' at Quebec border crossing

ST-BERNARD-DE-LACOLLE, Que. -- Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says he will close the loophole that allows tens of thousands of asylum-seekers to claim refugee status, but he isn't saying how.

Scheer pledged Wednesday to close the loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement that prevents asylum-seekers from claiming refugee protection in Canada if they arrive at an official border checkpoint from a country that is considered safe, such as the United States, but permits them to make such a claim if they're already in the country.

That's the technicality that's prompted thousands of people to enter Canada from the U.S. away from official crossings, including across the New York-Quebec border and on the Prairies.

Scheer didn't say how he would renegotiate the agreement with the Trump administration in the U.S., saying only he would use unspecified "other tools" if he forms a government.

He said Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau showed "incompetence and negligence" in dealing with the border crossers.

Scheer announced his immigration plan at the Roxham Road crossing in Hemmingford, Que., which is separated from the U.S. by a few metres of scrub. The federal government says nearly 50,000 people have entered Canada there in the last two years, most of them intending to claim asylum once they're on Canadian soil.

Scheer said his plan to stop the flow of so-called irregular border crossers includes hiring 250 additional border officers and making it a priority to fund services such as language training, credential recognition and the protection of vulnerable people.

Canada's future immigration levels would be based on Canada's national interest and economic needs, Scheer said.

Scheer would not say whether that means allowing more or fewer immigrants into Canada.

Earlier this year, the Liberals changed the refugee law to prevent asylum-seekers from making refugee claims in Canada if they've made similar claims in certain other countries, including the U.S., to prevent what Border Security Minister Bill Blair has called "asylum-shopping."

Lawyers and advocates who work with refugees have said that's an attack on refugee rights in Canada.

Earlier Wednesday, Trudeau suggested Scheer's announcement would allow him to see the infrastructure that the Liberals government has installed at Roxham Road crossing, where all new arrivals -- regular and irregular -- are held by the RCMP and fully screened.

"There are no shortcuts. There are no skipping steps within our immigration system. Everyone arriving in Canada goes through the same immigration system -- a full, rigorous immigration system that is being applied," Trudeau said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 9, 2019.