Prime Minister Justin Trudeau engaged in a war of words with his opposition Wednesday after receiving calls for Ottawa to close the Roxham Road border crossing after Quebec unveiled it had reached its limit.
Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre told reporters Tuesday that he wants Roxham Road shut down in 30 days. But Trudeau claimed the best approach is for Canada to renegotiate the Safe Third Country Agreement.
"The only way to effectively shut down not just Roxham Road, but the entire border, to these irregular crossings, is to renegotiate the Safe Third Country Agreement, which is serious work that we are doing as a government right now," Trudeau told reporters on Wednesday.
"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. The problem is we have 6,000 kilometres of undefended shared border with the United States, and people will choose to cross elsewhere."
Quebec Premier Francois Legault firmly told the feds that migrants and asylum seekers could no longer come to Canada through Roxham Road, citing "thinly stretched" resources to accommodate more migrants.
"It is time for Justin Trudeau to put out a new tweet to say not to come anymore because we have exceeded our reception capacity," said Legault, adding his government faces ongoing struggles with housing, school capacity, and hospital staff.
"At some point, Trudeau has to send a new message."
Trudeau's immigration minister acknowledged Legault's concerns as valid but ultimately condemned Poilievre's approach as "brash bumper sticker arguments that seek to gain political favour in a time of a real challenge."
"It's reckless and, frankly, not a thoughtful approach to simply say 'within 30 days, you close Roxham Road,'" Rick Fraser told reporters Wednesday morning.
Roxham Road, in particular, observed a sharp increase in migrants entering the country since the prime minister welcomed them to Canada in a 2017 tweet to oppose then-US President Donald Trump.
Poilievre called for Trudeau to present a concrete plan to close the unofficial border crossing along the Quebec-New York border, suggesting it was done during COVID and can be done now.
Ottawa expelled asylum seekers in March 2020 to limit the spread of COVID until late 2021. Trudeau admitted this approach was "reasonably effective."
"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."
The prime minister responded Wednesday that they couldn't resolve the border crisis with "simplistic solutions." He claimed his government had been actively working with the US to entirely but compassionately close all unofficial crossings.
"We're making real progress," said Trudeau.
Legault reignited the issue last week after asking the prime minister to renegotiate the Safe Third Country Agreement when US President Joe Biden visits next month. He said the current deal has failed to curb the disproportionate flow of migrants into Quebec, which Trudeau has since acknowledged.
"We will continue to be there for Quebec, we will continue to be there for our international obligations, and we will continue to be there to try and make sure that we have a safe and secure and rigorous immigration system," said Trudeau.
First signed in 2002, the Safe Third Country Agreement remains controversial despite some recent tweaks since 2018.
Under the pact, asylum seekers in Canada or the US must make their claim in the first country they enter. But a loophole in that agreement allows those who enter Canada via an unofficial crossing to remain in the country without the immediate threat of deportation.
"If we took such an approach rather than dealing with people with dignity and respect, the result would likely be serious risks that would fall upon vulnerable migrants seeking haven in Canada," added Fraser.
He claimed that migrants would have to cross through a potentially dangerous portion of the border at this time of year if Ottawa closed Roxham Road.
The immigration minister added that work is underway to provide funding to Ontario and Atlantic Canada, which he said can accommodate additional asylum seekers and alleviate the strain on Quebec.
"It's not fair or right that one community or one province ought to bear the brunt of a challenge that we're facing as a result of Canada abiding by its domestic and legal obligations."
Approximately 39,171 asylum seekers crossed into the province through the unofficial border crossing last year, leading to accusations by Poilievre of the prime minister encouraging migrant crossings after years of failing to find a solution.