Asylum seekers who cross from the U.S. into Canada near the border town of Emerson, Man., are abusing the country's generous immigration and refugee system, says the Conservative MP who represents the district.
Provencher MP Ted Falk wants Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to clarify his position on the growing number of refugee claimants who cross into Canada illegally.
In a video he posted to Facebook on Saturday, Falk asked Trudeau whether his message "Welcome to Canada" means refugees are welcome to enter the country by any means they want.
"Is this an open invitation for folks that want to illegally cross into Canada to come here and take advantage of our generous immigration and refugee policy?" the Conservative MP asks in the video.
"It seems as though your statement has created a great deal of confusion.… Mr. Prime Minister, was your invitation restricted to legal means of immigrating to Canada, or did it also include illegal entry into Canada and come any way you want?"
Falk reiterated his concerns Monday morning, saying asylum seekers crossing near Emerson are taking advantage of Canada.
"We have a very good health system, we have a very good education system. When they come through the crossing in Manitoba, we also provide them with free legal aid," Falk said.
Falk said border security is of more concern than resources being devoted to supporting refugee claimants.
"We haven't seen the Liberals taking any action on that issue, either tightening up the integrity of our border or providing additional security," he said.
When Canada signed onto the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees in 1969, it agreed to, among other things, provide administrative assistance and public education to refugees and not to penalize refugees for breaking immigration rules, including entering the country illegally.
Falk questioned whether the asylum seekers crossing into Manitoba from the United States truly need Canada's help.
Some asylum seekers have told the CBC in recent weeks that U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order banning entry of people from seven Muslim-majority countries is the reason they decided to seek refuge in Canada.
That ban was overturned by U.S. courts, but on Monday Trump signed a new order that bans new visas for people from six Muslim-majority countries (this time the list does not include Iraq) and puts restrictions on the U.S. refugee program.
Other border-crossers have had refugee claims denied in the U.S. and fear being sent back home.
Falk said the judiciary is ultimately responsible for processing refugee claims, and as it overturned Trump's first order, it has shown itself to be unbiased.
"These folks are in a safe country. They're not under threat where they are in the United States, and I don't think they should have the ability to jump the queue and get preferential treatment," Falk said.
He wants Trudeau to take steps to stop asylum seekers from crossing the border illegally, but did not offer a plan for that.
"When we're in government, we'll address the situation, but in the meantime, it's his job to do it."
Canada's international law obligations
Amnesty International refugee co-ordinator Gloria Nafziger said that people fail to understand that there are international obligations requiring Canada to protect refugees.
"We can't prevent people from entering the country. We can't build a wall that keeps people out. Refugees have a right to seek asylum," she said.
Nafziger, who visited Emerson last week as part of her work with the human rights advocacy group, said she saw asylum seekers treated fairly and humanely by Canadian border officials.
The Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, which requires people to apply for asylum in the first country where they arrive, assumes Canada and the United States have a fair refugee system, but actions by the U.S. government have prompted "serious concerns," Nafziger said.
"Amnesty International has had long concerns about whether or not the United States actually fulfils the requirements of the refugee convention and is in fact a safe country for refugees," she said. "Many refugees are subject to detention in really cruel conditions."
Without access to legal assistance in detention, many refugees are set up to fail the refugee-claim process, she said.
Trump's newest executive order is still being reviewed by the refugee advocate, but Nafziger said the bill will undoubtedly send a chill through the Muslim refugee community.
During question period on Monday, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said Canada "has been recognized around the world for having a compassionate refugee system."
"The head of the [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] in Canada is on record stating the domestic asylum system in the United States is intact and therefore it would be irresponsible to withdraw from the Safe Third Country Agreement."
'Screwed up' priorities, resident says
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale was in Emerson on Saturday to announce the federal government is giving the town $30,000 to help support its volunteer fire department, which has provided emergency care and other forms of assistance to some of the border-crossers.
Speaking with reporters before question period, Goodale said the situation is being very carefully monitored by a number of agencies.
"Various scenarios are being thought through for the future to be sure that as the situation evolves, and it's too early at this point to say in exactly which direction that evolution will go, but as the situation evolves that we have properly planned for all contingencies and are ... able to, to deal with all of that," he said.
On Feb. 23, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister announced $110,000 in funding for Welcome Place to support services for refugee claimants, $70,000 to continue funding a newcomer response co-ordinator and 14 emergency housing units for refugees.
Emerson resident Claude Marshall said many people in his community struggle with poverty and they could use more support.
"It's a battle every day for us to pay our bills and make our ends meet," Marshall said. "We have to put our people first.… No matter how harsh that sounds, we have to do it."
Marshall said he's struggled to have his views heard by both provincial and federal policy-makers.
"I'm kicked to the curb and I'm under a rock. Nobody's listening to what is going on, especially our people that are leading us," he said. "Our priorities are so screwed up it's unreal."
RCMP said Saturday they have intercepted 183 people illegally crossing near Emerson since Jan 1.