OTTAWA — As Canada prepares to sign on to a United Nations agreement on migration, Conservative politicians are pushing back, saying signing it would be tantamount to erasing Canada's borders.
But the Liberals say Conservatives are simply trying to court voters being fed conspiracy theories about the UN agreement fuelled by the controversial online news outlet Rebel Media.
The Global Compact on Migration is set to become the first, inter-governmentally negotiated agreement under the UN to cover all dimensions of international migration. It is aimed at improving co-operation between countries and will be signed by multiple countries next week in Morocco.
Canada's Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen is to sign on Canada's behalf.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer strongly opposes the agreement, arguing it would give foreign entities influence over Canada's immigration system and would influence media coverage of immigration issues.
"Canadians and Canadians alone should make decisions on who comes into our country and under what circumstances," Scheer said Tuesday.
"Instead of signing international agreements that erode our sovereign right to manage our borders, the prime minister should focus on restoring order at home."
But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused Scheer of using "Rebel Media talking points" — a reference to the controversial news website, which has been linked to the alt-right.
In August 2017, Scheer announced he would no longer give interviews to Rebel Media, which had been heavily criticized for sympathetic coverage of white supremacists at a deadly protest in Charlottesville, Va., until it changed editorial direction. His criticism of the UN pact migration pact is similar to that espoused by Rebel Media, which has called the compact a means to normalize mass migration and silence media critics.
Concerns about the UN agreement have been raised several times in the House of Commons this week, with Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel calling it a "border-erasing policy" and People's Party Leader Maxime Bernier also saying it would "normalize mass migration."
Scheer, Rempel and Rebel Media have further raised concerns about the compact legally binding Canada to the provisions within the agreement — a claim the Liberals say is false.
Consensus on the final version of the Global Compact on Migration was reached this summer in New York at the sixth round of negotiations on the proposed international policy document. Almost all UN member states are poised to sign it, except the United States and Hungary. Pope Francis is one of many dignitaries expected to be in Morocco for the signing event next week.
The agreement itself contains 23 objectives and commitments, each focusing on a different dimension of migration, from the moment a migrant decides to flee their country due to violence or persecution through to the time they return to their home country.
Canada played an active role driving the agreement forward, although the government has indicated it will closely review the text before formally signing the document, according to a senior official.
On Monday, Hussen said Canada will sign the agreement and on Tuesday, Trudeau defended the plan.
"Welcoming people through a rigorous immigration system from around the world is what has made Canada strong, and indeed something the world needs more of," Trudeau said.
However, the government has been flooded with form letters from Canadians asking that it delay signing the agreement until a national debate is held.
The letters, an example of which was provided to The Canadian Press, claim the UN agreement is attempting to eliminate criticism of the accommodation of migrants and would effectively "label those who complain as racists or haters, thus stifling any freedom of discussion."
Objective 17 of the agreement does ask countries to commit to eliminating discrimination, as well as to "promote independent, objective and quality reporting of media outlets, including internet-based information, including by sensitizing and educating media professionals on migration-related issues and terminology."
However, it also says commits signatories to protecting free speech, "recognizing that an open and free debate contributes to a comprehensive understanding of all aspects of migration."
The Liberals say they are proud of the leadership role Canada has played in this initiative, especially at a time when millions of people in the world have been displaced by wars and violence.
Mathieu Genest, Hussen's press secretary, said he believes Sheer's comments demonstrate the "lengths the Conservatives are willing to go to win over supporters of the People's Party of Canada," referencing the upstart party founded by former Tory Bernier.
"The Conservatives have been inconsistent on this file, and it is a shame to see them promote conspiracy theories to spread fear and division."
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Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press