Scrapping refugee deal with U.S. would lead to thousands more heading north, says John Manley

Suspending the Safe Third Country Agreement would only turn the flow of dozens of asylum seekers coming to Canada through illegal border crossings into a flow of thousands, says former deputy prime minister of Canada John Manley. 

"If you suspend the [Safe Third Country Agreement] then they can come across at regular border crossings, so forget 30 here, 20 there that are going through Minnesota into Manitoba — now you're starting to deal with thousands of people," Manley said in an interview with CBC News Network's Power & Politics.

Manley signed the Canada-U.S. Smart Border Declaration in 2002, which helped bring the Safe Third Country agreement into effect.

Under the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, refugee claimants are required to request refugee protection in the first safe country they arrive in — meaning border officials would send back to the U.S. any would-be refugee claimants arriving at an official border crossing to Canada.

Those who are caught crossing into Canada illegally through an unmanned part of the border are taken into custody by the RCMP and undergo a series of identification checks before being turned over to the Canada Border Services Agency for processing.​

In the last few months, dozens of asylum seekers have illegally crossed into Canada along the Manitoba and Quebec borders with the U.S.

"The world is literally swimming in refugees," Manley told host Rosemary Barton. "We figure we can take in and manage about 40,000 a year. Do we really need to take people from the United States?"

"People have misgivings about Donald Trump … OK, but it's still the United States. It's not Homs, Syria, or Mosul in Iraq. To me, if you said you were a refugee today, where would you like to be, in Iraq or Syracuse? I'm picking Syracuse," said Manley.

Asking the wrong question

University of Toronto law professor Audrey Macklin said Manley is asking the wrong question.

"The question is: if you were from Iraq, would you rather ask for refugee protection in Syracuse, where the president calls people like you terrorists and authorities will throw you in detention, deny you a fair hearing and possibly deport [you] to Iraq," said Macklin. Or "would you rather try Canada, where you at least have a chance at a fair hearing to determine whether you are a refugee?" she asked.

Macklin is one of more than 200 law professors urging the federal government to suspend the agreement. The NDP has also pressed the government to suspend the agreement.

According to the government of Canada website, "Only countries that respect human rights and offer a high degree of protection to asylum seekers may be designated as safe third countries." NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said the United States no longer meets the government's criteria.

"It is clear that many refugees no longer feel safe in the United States. The executive orders from President Trump, the massive crackdown on undocumented immigrants, as well as forthcoming immigration orders, all make it very clear that the United States under President Trump no longer meets that criteria," said Kwan.

"The continuation of this agreement will guarantee that we will see even more illegal border crossings with asylum seekers risking life and limb, because they have no other choice," she said.

Government update Thursday

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took questions from media in Calgary early Wednesday and addressed the recent influx of asylum seekers.

"We know that Canadians and ourselves are very alert to ensuring both the integrity of our borders and the strength of our immigration system. That's why we're making sure that all laws are properly being followed and enforced and that the amazing communities that have done such a great job of welcoming people in very difficult situations get the support they need," said Trudeau.

"We can reassure Canadians that we have a strong and robust system for processing these new arrivals, but at the same time, we are working with all levels of government and indeed talking with our counterparts in the United States to ensure that we are addressing the situation properly," he said.

Officials from the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency are scheduled to brief the media Thursday on the government's approach to dealing with the influx of asylum seekers.