Evidence of meeting #42 for Citizenship and Immigration in the 44th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was safe.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Christiane Fox  Deputy Minister, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Michèle Kingsley  Assistant Deputy Minister, Operations, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Clerk of the Committee  Ms. Stephanie Bond

2:15 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

Look, it's a great question. A lot of people who are here in Canada—not just asylum seekers, by the way—who are living on a temporary status would like to become permanent residents. Having certainty in what those pathways look like is really important. In order to do that, we need to continue to increase our immigration ambition, which I believe is a good thing for both economic and demographic reasons, but it can also be for compassionate reasons. Smoothing the pathway after a person receives protected person status to permanent residency is one thing that we would be able to do to make life easier, particularly because people who achieve protected person status do not automatically become entitled to be reunified with their families.

Another example would be making sure that we're investing in the asylum system so that people have timely decision-making and they're not left wondering what their status would be, as well as continuing to work with different levels of government at the provincial or municipal levels to make sure that when a person is here going through the process, they're not without a place to sleep or a roof over their head, and they have their basic needs, such as health care, taken care of.

There are a number of elements we can do to make sure that our system of migration and asylum is more compassionate. Of course, I don't have a monopoly on good ideas. If the committee arrives at additional recommendations, I would be more than happy to consider them in good faith.

2:20 p.m.

Liberal

Shafqat Ali Liberal Brampton Centre, ON

Thank you, Minister.

I understand that many asylum seekers who have entered by Roxham Road become productive workers, but they have to wait some time to obtain a work permit. Given that Canadian businesses need workers, and given the aging Canadian demographic, what can be done to facilitate the entry of these individuals into the workforce?

2:20 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

Thank you for the question.

I don't want to use Canada's asylum system as our economic growth strategy. I want to use our economic migration system as our economic growth strategy and to continue to clear pathways for people to come through regular migration pathways to help fill key gaps in the labour force.

That said, there is a reality that we're living with: People are crossing the border and making asylum claims, and we have to deal with those challenging circumstances in a responsible and compassionate way. I don't view it to be appropriate to deny a person the ability to work when they have no other means to support themselves, as they're hearing a claim as to whether they are so vulnerable that they're in need of Canada's protection. We have recently had a shift in policy to make sure that people are able to obtain work permits before their eligibility decision to apply for asylum is rendered, which will shorten the period of time that people will go without the ability to work and support themselves.

We need to do that to remain compassionate towards people who are fleeing vulnerable circumstances, but not necessarily as a strategy to pursue economic growth. We know that our regular migration pathways for economic migrants are a more effective way to pursue economic growth. We may do the same thing you've recommended for compassionate reasons, but not necessarily for the same motivation, as we have other pathways to achieve those economic ends.

2:20 p.m.

Liberal

Shafqat Ali Liberal Brampton Centre, ON

Thank you, Minister. Thank you for your compassion toward asylum seekers. You mentioned it in your statement as well, and I truly appreciate it.

My next question, Minister, is that given that we have the world's longest non-militarized border with the U.S., closing Roxham Road—

2:20 p.m.

Bloc

Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe Bloc Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

I have a point of order, Madam Chair.

2:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Salma Zahid

Yes, Mr. Brunelle-Duceppe.

2:20 p.m.

Bloc

Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe Bloc Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

The interpreter's telling us that we have poor-quality sound and that it's interfering with the interpretation of my Liberal Party colleague's remarks.

2:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Salma Zahid

Mr. Ali, can you please say a few more words? The clerk will check the sound.

2:20 p.m.

Liberal

Shafqat Ali Liberal Brampton Centre, ON

Madam Clerk, can you hear me clearly? How's the weather down there?

2:20 p.m.

The Clerk of the Committee Ms. Stephanie Bond

I can hear you. Thank you.

2:20 p.m.

Bloc

Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe Bloc Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Is that good for the interpreters?

If Mr. Ali could speak more slowly, that would make it easier for the interpreters.

2:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Salma Zahid

Mr. Ali, can you go a bit more slowly?

2:20 p.m.

Liberal

Shafqat Ali Liberal Brampton Centre, ON

Okay.

Minister, given that we have the world's longest non-militarized border with the U.S., closing Roxham Road or suspending the safe third country agreement would not be a solution. It would just cause asylum seekers to make more dangerous crossings and put them at a greater risk of exploitation.

You have suggested modernizing the agreement to make it more sustainable. Could you share with us what modernizing the agreement might look like?

2:20 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

Thank you to my colleague for the question.

I think you've made a key point. A simple suspension of the safe third country agreement, in my view, would lead to a potentially significant number of people making claims in a different and perhaps less organized way, which would exacerbate some of the challenges—which are very real—of dealing with large numbers of people who seek to come across our borders.

Despite the scale of our challenges, I should point out as well that we sometimes forget we're blessed by geography compared to many countries in the world. We're surrounded by three oceans and the United States to our southern border, which limits the number of people who seek to come in irregularly, compared to other countries.

That said, because we want to maintain this unmilitarized border with our largest and most important geopolitical partner, we need to work together to make sure the system works more effectively.

You'll forgive me if I don't go into the specifics of what a modernized agreement looks like because, of course, we're having discussions in real time with the United States. It would betray the confidence they have shared with us. As a result of these conversations being ongoing, I won't share the details of those discussions on a open floor when they were promised in confidence to the United States.

However, we're going to seek to make sure we continue to promote regular migration, discourage people from making perilous journeys and ensure that on both sides of the border people are treated with compassion and have a fair shot to have their asylum claim heard, should they land in one country or the other and choose to make an asylum claim to seek safe haven.

2:25 p.m.

Liberal

Shafqat Ali Liberal Brampton Centre, ON

Thank you, Minister.

Madam Chair—

2:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Salma Zahid

Mr. Ali, your time is up. Thank you.

We will now proceed to Mr. Brunelle-Duceppe.

You will have six minutes. You can please begin.

2:25 p.m.

Bloc

Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe Bloc Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I want to thank the minister, who, I would note, often appears before this committee and is generous with his time.

Minister, in the last hour, your deputy minister said that, according to the department's projections, the number of persons entering Canada irregularly would be 50,000 for all of 2022. However, I've just seen the figures recently released for October, and we're up to 31,000 irregular entries at Roxham Road.

How can the department anticipate 20,000 more irregular entries in two months, November and December? I'm not sure the department has the right figures.

2:25 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

Pardon me, my friend, but there isn't much of a difference between those numbers.

I think you had the number correct on the number of people who are seeking to come across Roxham Road, though I believe the projection is between 84,000 and 94,000 for the total number of asylum claims that would be made regularly and irregularly.

2:25 p.m.

Bloc

Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe Bloc Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Pardon me, Minister, but I was talking about irregular entries. The deputy minister told us there would be 50,000 of them, but I find that projection odd. Since we know there were 31,000 from January to October, that means there would be 20,000 in two months.

You should simply tell the people in your department to pay attention when they calculate their projections. That's what they're paid for, and they should make accurate projections.

Talking about the people from your department, as we all saw, none of the officials present in the previous panel could tell me how the asylum claims process worked before the safe third country agreement was implemented in 2004.

As minister, do you consider it normal that your team of officials didn't know how the process for a person arriving from the United States and claiming asylum in Canada worked before the third safe country agreement was introduced?

2:25 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

I have a couple of points.

I want to push back on your assertion that we need to have more accurate projections. The vast majority of irregular claimants in Canada have come across Roxham Road. I don't think there's an inconsistency based on our projections and the number of people who've crossed to date.

On the second question, I don't think it's unusual to have a question sprung upon a department official about what system may have existed 18 years ago without an opportunity to prepare. However, “before the safe third country agreement” doesn't provide, I would suggest, a particularly useful reference point as to what solutions may be appropriate going forward. There has been an explosion—not just across the Canada-U.S. border, but globally—in the number of people seeking asylum. We need to be adopting solutions that are going to apply to the challenges we're facing today, not the challenges that may have been in place when I was in high school.

November 18th, 2022 / 2:25 p.m.

Bloc

Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe Bloc Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Thank you, Minister. You answered the question. In other words, you consider it normal for your officials not to know how the asylum claims process worked before the safe third country agreement came into effect. I think it's absurd. These people are currently involved in negotiations to modernize the agreement, and they aren't aware of how the process functioned before the agreement was introduced. Between you and me, if any journalists are listening, and I imagine some are, they'll be glad to learn that.

Let's talk about the agreement negotiations, Minister. That's been your party's best issue since 2019. The modernization of the safe third country agreement was even part of your 2019 election platform. I just want to remind everyone that this is 2022 and nothing's on the table for the moment.

The minister is telling us that suspending the agreement isn't the right solution because regular border crossings aren't organized as well as the irregular crossing at Roxham Road. That's exactly what he said earlier. I can't believe this is how IRCC views the situation. It's another thing that's being made public today.

How many meetings have been held with the Americans to modernize the safe third country agreement?

2:30 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

Look, let me just correct the record first. There have been a few instances—and I know you're a thoughtful, intelligent and fair-minded person, my friend—where you've put your words in my mouth, and I just want to be careful not to suggest to those journalists in the room that they adopt those quotes as being attributable to me. We can carry on in that conversation subsequently.

Look, in my effort to correct, I've lost track of what your actual question was, Alexis. If you don't mind coming back to it, I would appreciate it very much.

2:30 p.m.

Bloc

Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe Bloc Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Earlier you said that, if the safe third country agreement were suspended, people would cross at places less organized to receive them than what we currently see at Roxham Road. The places you referred to are Canada's regular border crossings. So, Minister, you said that the regular border crossings were less organized than the irregular crossing at Roxham Road. The RCMP calls it the Roxham border crossing, but we know perfectly well that it's an irregular crossing.

You're shaking your head. Then which crossings are less organized? If the safe third country agreement is suspended, people will be able to enter through the border crossings. Are you telling us the border crossings in the rest of Canada aren't organized?

2:30 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

No, that's not the argument I'm making, and to be fair to you, if the chair would like to add a minute to your questions, I could accommodate by staying an extra minute. That delay was on my part. I'd be happy to accommodate.

2:30 p.m.

Bloc

Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe Bloc Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Thank you for that.