Trudeau, Biden agreed to close Roxham Road last year: report

Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati says his community wants to see the federal government move the migrants elsewhere in a 'Team Canada approach.'

Trudeau, Biden agreed to close Roxham Road last year: report
Henry Nicholls/Pool/Getty Images
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After several months of negotiations, Canada and the United States agreed to update the Safe Third Countries Agreement. However, reports indicate that both sides discreetly finalized the deal over a year ago.

Subject to many leaks since Thursday, Canada will accept an additional 15,000 asylum seekers in exchange for the closure of Roxham Road. It will close the Roxham loophole in the agreement and force asylum seekers to apply in the first of the two countries where they set foot, regardless of the point of entry.

Illegal immigrants cannot enter Canada through unofficial border crossings throughout the Canada-United States border, where 39,171 people crossed into Canada in 2022. 

As of Friday at midnight, migrants who did not hold valid citizenship in either country and were intercepted within 14 days after crossing the border would be returned to the first of the two countries they entered.

First signed in 2002, the Safe Third Country Agreement remained relatively untouched despite minimal recent tweaks since 2018.

"We are also working together to deal with record levels of migration in the hemisphere," said U.S. President Biden in his speech in the House of Commons.

"In the United States, we are expanding legal migration pathways to seek security on a humanitarian basis while discouraging illegal migration that fuels the exploitation and trafficking of human beings."

"We will continue to increase the number of asylum seekers who are particularly accepted from the [Western] hemisphere to compensate for the closure of these irregular passages," said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a joint press conference with Biden.

"I congratulate Canada for intensifying similar programs," said Biden.

'La Presse said both governments signed a deal to close Roxham Road last year. Ottawa refrained from making the announcement public. Canada signed the document last March 29, with the U.S. following suit last April 15, as published online on the U.S. government website.

In December 2021, La Presse reported Ottawa had discreetly negotiated an updated Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S. to close its borders to migrants.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended waiting a year before because both countries had to regularize the situation on Roxham Road.

Québec Premier François Legault previously blamed Trudeau for promoting an influx of illegal immigrants, thanks to a controversial tweet in 2017.

At the time, Trudeau said that Canada would "welcome" all those "fleeing persecution, terror, and war" in response to then-U.S. President Donald Trump's rollback on immigration. Following the tweet, Roxham Road observed a sharp increase in migrants entering the country.

"We are open to accepting refugees," said Legault last year, but he claimed that most Roxham migrants "are not refugees."

However, Legault did not hide his joy on Friday, calling this outcome "a beautiful victory for Québec."

"You have in front of you a Premier of Québec who is happy to know that tonight at midnight [Friday], finally, Roxham Road will be closed."

Even if migrants find other breaches to enter the country, "we can think that…it will be distributed across Canada," he added, stressing that "it is the responsibility of the federal government to ensure that borders are respected."

Recently, Roxham Road has caused significant tension between Ottawa, Québec and the U.S. because of an influx of migrants entering Canada since 2017.

Québec's provincial government recently asked Ottawa to offload migrants to other jurisdictions after it fielded complaints that the migrant surge strained its social support and healthcare systems.

In June 2022, the feds began redistributing illegal immigrants from Québec to Ontario cities to reduce the "pressure on publicly funded services and accommodation in Quebec," including thousands to Niagara Falls and Windsor since January 2023.

In 2020, the region estimated it would need 20,000 additional affordable housing units by 2041 to meet growing demands before the influx of illegal immigration came to the region.

On welcoming an additional 15,000 migrants to Canada, Legault said, "I think we have done our part. I think there is a catch-up to be done so that there are more in the other provinces."

Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati said his community wants to see the federal government move the occupants elsewhere in a "Team Canada approach."

In Ottawa, the leader of the Bloc Québécois, Yves-François Blanchet, was outraged to learn of the time between the signing of the agreement and its entry into force, which he considers "politically and humanitarianly scandalous."

The Bloc spokesman for immigration, Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe, reiterated that "there are, however, many questions left before we rejoice," including how the authorities will determine when a person has crossed the border and how they will apply the 14-day deadline.

"I hope this agreement will work, and I don't know why the Prime Minister took so long to do it," reacted Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre, who also attributed the "problem with massive illegal migration" to Trudeau.

Poilievre has called on Trudeau to close Roxham Road since January, emphasizing "our system is now so slow and so broken."

"It is not legal to cross there. That is a reality," said the Official Opposition leader.

"If we are a real country, we have borders. And if this is a real prime minister, he is responsible for those borders," continued Poilievre. "He's had six years since the influx began. His job is to close the border, and we call him to do it."

Before the agreement became public, PPC leader Max Bernier said we could not save the world from chaos and strife. He added that Canada's first responsibility is its citizenry, as "it is a privilege to be Canadian."

"We at the PPC have a solution. We are not American — we won't build a wall — but we can build a fence and [instruct] the RCMP to do their job," said Bernier.

"We must stop [illegal] migration and ensure our borders are respected."

While he did not oppose those who seek refuge in Canada from persecution abroad, he clarified the importance of allowing "genuine refugees" to enter the country, which he claimed is not the case at Roxham Road.

Bernier tweeted Saturday that he has been asking Ottawa to close Roxham Road for four years. 

"They could have done it then. But it was part of Trudeau's mass immigration policies, so he left it open all that time."

"The government has allowed [tens of] thousands of illegal migrants [to] enter Canada and has spent hundreds of millions of dollars, and nothing has been done. Nothing has been resolved," he said in the House of Commons in 2019.

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  • By Alexandra Lavoie

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