Trudeau says best way to close Roxham Road is to renegotiate refugee deal with U.S.

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says there are no simple solutions to shutting down a rural road in southern Quebec used by thousands of asylum seekers to cross irregularly into Canada.

His comments Wednesday came a day after Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said the prime minister should shut down the rural crossing — known as Roxham Road — within 30 days.

“Could somebody put up barricades and a big wall? Yes, if Pierre Poilievre wants to build a wall at Roxham Road, someone could do that,” Trudeau told reporters.

Trudeau said closing that road would only encourage asylum seekers to use another forested path along the thousands of kilometres of border between Canada and the United States.

“For years, we have been focused on closing Roxham Road. The challenge is not to say, ‘Oh, we should close it.’ The challenge is how to close it,” he said.

“How to make sure that people aren’t choosing to cross irregularly into Canada to protect the integrity of our immigration system but also stay true to the values that we have.”

The prime minister said that the best way to close Roxham Road is to renegotiate the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement.

“We’ve been making real progress, but until we manage to do (renegotiate), we need to support our immigration system,” Trudeau said. “Those are ongoing conversations with the Americans that are continuing to progress.”

Under the Safe Third Country Agreement signed by Washington and Ottawa in 2002, most asylum seekers cannot make claims at official border crossings between the two countries. But the agreement doesn't apply to people who illegally cross into Canada outside of a border station, most of whom are not prosecuted because they file an asylum claim.

The federal government has reported that more than 39,000 people claimed asylum in Quebec in 2022 after crossing into Canada outside official ports of entry, mostly through Roxham Road.

In a letter to Trudeau dated Sunday, Quebec Premier François Legault wrote that the federal government urgently needs to complete the renegotiation of the agreement and called for the renegotiated treaty to apply at all entry points.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 22, 2023.

Émilie Bergeron, The Canadian Press