Refugee activists march on to Roxham Road, protest its closure

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden closed Roxham Road on March 24, costing taxpayers $75.5 million over ten years to temporarily accommodate migrants.

Refugee activists march on to Roxham Road, protest its closure
The Canadian Press / Graham Hughes
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Activists opposed to the Supreme Court upholding the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) are expected to conclude a 73-kilometre walk from Montreal to Roxham Road on Monday in protest of its closure.

"Reaching safety in Canada is an obstacle course full of danger for the vast majority of people who walk across countries and continents to find safety," reads the event description on Facebook.

Participants and their supporters gathered at La Fontaine Park Saturday morning to commence their three-day journey.

First signed in 2004, the bilateral deal denied migrants the ability to seek asylum in Canada if they first landed in the U.S. That did not include unofficial crossings like Roxham Road — a route exploited by smugglers and tens of thousands of people annually.

However, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden closed that loophole on March 24, costing taxpayers $75.5 million over ten years to temporarily accommodate and provide services to migrants. In exchange, Canada will welcome 15,000 migrants from across the Americas over the next year on a "humanitarian basis."

With the signing of the ʼadditional protocolʼ on the STCA, Canada and the U.S. remain "safe" countries for migrants and state that refugee claimants are required to seek asylum in the first country where they arrive.

While the court did not consider the "additional protocol" in its ruling on Friday, Justice Nicholas Kasirer dismissed a constitutional challenge of the agreement, contending its "safety valves…are sufficient to ensure that no deprivations contrary to the principles of fundamental justice occur."

However, activists remain determined in their protest of the STCA.

"A small road amidst agricultural fields, Roxham Road became a symbol of hope for thousands for whom hope was otherwise denied," according to the Facebook post.

"We march to Roxham Road as a symbolic action, to draw attention to the urgency of this issue and the humanitarian crisis asylum seekers face if immediate action is not taken to end the STCA."

Kasirer explained some exemptions would allow some refugee claimants to stay in Canada.

If illegal immigrants manage to wait 14 days before making a refugee claim, they escape the new provisions of the agreement.

Additionally, humanitarian and compassionate exemptions excuse "administrative deferrals of removal," according to the Kasirer.

"The legislation is tailored to prevent certain infringements of Sec. 7 interests and, importantly for present purposes, survives constitutional scrutiny here because legislative safety valves provide curative relief," said the ruling.

However, opponents claim the pact violates Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, arguing the U.S. is not safe for asylum seekers.

Kasirer ultimately rejected the claim, maintaining the U.S. is safe for would-be migrants, permitting Canada to deport migrants south "so long as the American system is not fundamentally unfair."

"The degree of difference between the legal schemes applicable in the two countries can be tolerated, so long as the American system is not fundamentally unfair," read the June 16 ruling.

Critics also argued the STCA violates Section 15, alleging unequal treatment for women in the U.S. owing to domestic and gender-based violence. The Supreme Court deferred this matter to the Federal Court for further analysis.

"Their only choice when faced with danger is to flee in the direction of safety, by boat, bus, and foot," said the Facebook post. "This shameful agreement tarnishes Canada's identity as a compassionate and welcoming nation."

Since March 24, Canada Border Services have identified 484 migrants who attempted to cross the Canada-U.S. border between official ports of entry via Québec.

In the first month alone, border patrols captured 264 people attempting to enter Canada between official ports. They deported 185 individuals to the U.S. and approved 78 migrants to seek asylum. One person voluntarily withdrew their application.

Between March 20, 2020, and January 31, 2023, the feds spent $136 million on temporary accommodations, meals, security, and transport for Roxham migrants.

Ottawa alleged they closed the border in 2020 and 2021 owing to the COVID pandemic, which Trudeau lauded as "reasonably effective." However, the number of migrants entering Canada remained on par or exceeded 2016 data for those years at 23,760 and 25,160 persons, respectively. 

In 2022, 39,171 migrants entered Québec through Roxham to avoid deportation.

The surge of Roxham migrants in 2021 and 2022 cost taxpayers $87.8 million to pay for "temporary accommodations for unvaccinated asymptomatic asylum seekers without a suitable quarantine plan."

The provinces and municipalities have paid $551.6 million through the Interim Housing Assistance Program since 2017, which covers "extraordinary costs of interim housing for asylum seekers."

In 2018, only 50 migrants required hotel accommodations, rising to 27,555 in October 2022. However, the closure of Roxham Road on March 24 drastically reduced the occupancy rate of "migrant hotels," which neared two-thirds (64%) last March. 

As of May 21, Immigration Canada revealed about 1% of the rooms remained occupied in Québec. They rented 250 hotel rooms on the taxpayer dime to house only six migrants in Québec.

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