FIRST READING: Canada absolutely did not need U.S. permission to close Roxham Road

first reading: canada absolutely did not need u.s. permission to close roxham road

Workers remove warning signs at the illlegal Roxham Road border crossing on March 24.

First Reading is a daily newsletter keeping you posted on the travails of Canadian politicos, all curated by the National Post’s own Tristin Hopper. To get an early version sent directly to your inbox every Monday to Thursday at 6:30 p.m. ET (and 9:30 a.m. on Saturdays), sign up here.


One of the biggest policy takeaways from the visit of U.S. President Joe Biden is that it led to the immediate closure of the illegal Roxham Road border crossing.

Armed with a U.S.-approved tweak to the Safe Third Country Agreement, Canadian law enforcement began turning away illegal border crossers only hours after Biden’s delegation had left the country.

But there is absolutely no reason the action needed to take this long — or even required U.S. approval at all. Since thousands of migrants began illegally crossing the Canadian border in 2017, Ottawa has deftly ignored any number of simple and unilateral actions that could have ended the crisis almost as soon as it began.

For starters, the U.S. signed off on a revamped Safe Third Country Agreement nearly a year ago — and yet it took until last Friday for the Trudeau government to tell anyone.

In the interim period, more than 40,000 migrants were able to illegally enter Canada via an unauthorized crossing at Roxham Road in the border town of Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que.

The influx swiftly overwhelmed social services in southern Quebec, leading to the government of Premier Francois Legault leading an all-out push for Roxham Road’s closure.

“It is becoming increasingly difficult to receive asylum seekers with dignity,” Legault wrote in a Feb. 21 open letter. “The new arrivals struggle to find adequate housing and are more likely to find themselves in a situation of homelessness.”

Bowing to Quebec pressure, Ottawa began chartering buses to ship Roxham Road migrants across the Ontario border to Niagara Falls, only to see social services quickly overwhelmed in that community as well.

Roxham Road came into existence largely because of a loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement, a 2004 treaty that commits Canada to turning away refugee claimants from the U.S. on the grounds that they’re already in a “safe country.” But the treaty didn’t apply if the asylum-seeker entered Canada illegally and then made an “inland” claim.

The new Safe Third Country Agreement quashes the Roxham Road loophole with a few lines of text authorizing Canadian border guards to deport any refugee claimants whose “country of last presence” was the United States — regardless of how the asylum seeker entered Canada.

According to a just-released agreement authorizing the change, this update was approved by the U.S. on April 15 of last year.

As to why the Trudeau government kept the new treaty a secret for more than 11 months, the official explanation is that Roxham Road would have been overwhelmed by last-minute crossings. As U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Cohen said in a weekend interview, an earlier announcement would have caused “a large influx of migrants trying to get to Canada before that change went into place.” In a subsequent interview on CBC’s Power & Politics, Cohen said that the deal needed time to undergo an administrative review.

The Trudeau government has long maintained that U.S. approval was required for any closure of Roxham Road. “Closing Roxham Road is not a simple matter. It is essential that we work with the communities, with the province and with our partners in the United States,” Minister of Immigration Sean Fraser told the House of Commons just three weeks ago.

But there’s nothing in the agreement that would have prevented Canada from unilaterally shutting down an unlawful entry point onto its sovereign territory.

In fact, Canada did just that for 20 months at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2020, RCMP officers stationed at Roxham Road were instructed to begin turning away would-be border crossers in order to enforce Canadian quarantine orders.

The illegal crossing was then reopened in November 2021 — several months before Canada’s legal border crossings were opened to unrestricted traffic.

The Bloc Québécois — a particularly fierce advocate for Roxham Road’s closure — has also pushed the idea of suspending the Safe Third Country Agreement. By withdrawing from the treaty, Canada could at least begin directing asylum-seekers through authorized crossings.

“I think it would … be much more dignified and humane to welcome these people through the front door rather than the back,” Bloc MP Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe said at an October committee hearing.

Against both suggestions, the immigration ministry has repeatedly maintained that a simple closure of Roxham Road would just “move the problem from one place to another.”

“Closing Roxham Road or suspending the Safe Third Country Agreement will not solve the main problem,” Marie-France Lalonde, parliamentary secretary to the minister of immigration, told the House of Commons in December. She added that asylum seekers would just find another illegal entry point.

Nevertheless, the closure of Roxham Road for pandemic reasons was quite effective at disincentivizing illegal crossings.

Statistics on “irregular border crossings” maintained by the Immigration and Refugee Board show that they dropped as much as 90 per cent following the March 2020 closure of Roxham Road.

In the first three months of 2020, 3,500 asylum-seekers entered Canada illegally. In the three months after Roxham Road was closed, that dropped to 360 and would remain in the low hundreds for the remainder of the closure.

Only after the November 2021 reopening did illegal crossings once again surge into the thousands.

What’s more, Canada was similarly quite good at keeping out illegal border crossers before Roxham Road entered the public zeitgeist in 2017. The crossing first became a household word when it became a focal point for foreign nationals fleeing the U.S. in fear of deportation by newly inaugurated President Donald Trump.

Before then, the Immigration and Refugee Board didn’t even bother to keep statistics on illegal border crossers.

But fragmented numbers for the few months preceding the first rush of migrants to Roxham Road do show that the rate of illegal crossings averaged a handful per day. By contrast, in September illegal crossings reached an unprecedented high of nearly 100 per day.



Even before the Emergencies Act inquiry had kicked off, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh sort of killed the suspense of the whole thing by declaring that, whatever happened, his caucus would continue propping up Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. And now, just hours after the NDP supported a motion for a public inquiry into allegations of Chinese electoral interference, Singh announced that he would be doing the same: Whatever such an inquiry might find, the NDP Leader said he wouldn’t “trigger an election” over it. On Monday, a reporter asked Singh what would need to happen for his party to stop supporting the Trudeau government. “I need to become the prime minister,” was his answer.

first reading: canada absolutely did not need u.s. permission to close roxham road

It’s Budget Day tomorrow, which means Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland had to undergo one of the weirder Canadian political traditions of purchasing new shoes. Naturally, politicians are pilloried if they opt for footwear that carries any hint of luxury or excess, so Freeland bought a pair of simple black heels from Simons for $112.94.

The inevitable next stage to any Canadian political scandal is that a whole bunch of lawyers get to start racking up billable hours. Thus has former Liberal MP Han Dong announced plans to sue Global News, although he hasn’t specified the nature of the suit. Global News has accused Dong of two things. One, that he knowingly accepted campaign assistance from the Chinese consulate in Toronto during the 2021 election. And two, that he privately advised the Chinese consulate that it would help the Liberals’ re-election chances if Beijing kept detained Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig behind bars until after the 2021 election. Dong is only suing Global for the second story. In a statement he said “it is inconceivable that I would ever suggest a falsely accused individual should spend an extra minute in jail.”

Get all of these insights and more into your inbox every weekday at 6 p.m. ET by signing up for the First Reading newsletter here.

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