Canadian Council for Refugees
March 9, 2023
Statement on Roxham Road crossings
In response to the current focus on people making refugee claims at Roxham Road, the Canadian Council for Refugees highlights the following points and calls for respect for the rights and dignity of all those seeking our protection.
Canada has legal obligations towards refugees at our borders
Keeping the door open to refugees is one of the most basic legal obligations all countries have towards people fleeing persecution. As a signatory to the Refugee Convention, Canada has an obligation under international law not to summarily turn away people who come asking for protection. This prohibition exists to protect refugees from being sent back to face persecution and even death.
To ask for Canada to close the border to refugees is to propose that Canada act in violation of International law. Conversely, under international law it is not illegal for someone fleeing persecution to cross the border irregularly to seek protection.
If Canada is to have any moral authority globally on refugee protection, we must respect our most basic legal obligations towards refugees and uphold the Refugee Convention within Canada and at our borders.
The USA is not safe for all refugees
Forcing refugee claimants back to the US means condemning some of them to detention in atrocious conditions and possible return to persecution in their countries of origin. As part of the legal challenge of the Safe Third Country Agreement, extensive evidence was presented to the courts proving that many refugee claimants sent back to the US were detained. The conditions were so bad that the Federal Court concluded that they would shock the conscience of Canadians.
People who are detained have much less chance of successfully applying for asylum in the US. In addition, there are significant other barriers to access to asylum in the US, including a one-year deadline for applying and a very restrictive interpretation of gender-based persecution. The Supreme Court is currently deciding whether the application of the Safe Third Country Agreement violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The majority of people making a refugee claim at Roxham Road are found to be refugees (including some who have been denied refugee protection in the US). Many of those who are not accepted as refugees are nevertheless fleeing situations of generalized violence and disorder (such as Haiti or Venezuela). They come to Canada in order to find a safe place for themselves and their families – as they can’t find safety anywhere else.
Canada is receiving only a small number of the world’s displaced
The numbers of people making claims in Canada have gone up, but that is only to be expected. Around the world, the number of people fleeing as refugees has increased dramatically – at the end of 2021 an estimated 89.3 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced. The influx in Canada is extremely small compared to the number of migrants at the US-Mexico border.
Many countries with much less wealth, such as Turkey or Colombia, are hosting millions of displaced persons – far more than Canada.
In light of the situation internationally, Canada should be showing leadership and leading by example in adapting to larger numbers of refugees, and not closing our doors.
People use irregular channels because Canada blocks regular channels
People face many challenges and risks when crossing at Roxham Road. Given the chance they would make different choices. However, forcibly displaced people come to Roxham Road because the Safe Third Country Agreement means that they cannot apply at a Port of Entry. Canada could - and should – put an end to irregular crossings at Roxham Road by withdrawing from the Agreement. People would then be able to present themselves in a regular way at any Port of Entry right across Canada. It would be better for the people arriving and better for Canada.
Canada could also expand legal options for the forcibly displaced. We saw what was possible with the introduction last year of the “Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel (CUAET)”. This visa allows Ukrainians to enter Canada and apply for a work or study permit. Canada has admitted over 160,000 Ukrainians since the beginning of 2022 (many more than the number of refugee claimants). Why does Canada not offer similar emergency visas to nationals of other countries in crisis? If they did, far fewer people would be compelled to cross at Roxham Road.
Racial equity demands that Black and brown people also have an opportunity to arrive in Canada in a regular, dignified way. They should not be forced to resort to an irregular crossing, on many occasions risking their lives and their families’ lives in harsh winter conditions, and be demonized for doing so.
All levels of government should respect the dignity of refugee claimants and provide basic support
Those making refugee claims in Canada, including at Roxham Road, have mostly fled situations of violence and countries in crisis. They have often suffered through unimaginably difficult and dangerous journeys before they get to Canada. Many are desperately worried about their families that they were forced to leave behind. If given the chance, they become valuable members of our communities, including by taking on vital jobs for which workers are scarce.
They deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
They also deserve to receive basic support services – which currently the Federal government fails to fund. Unlike most newcomers to Canada, refugee claimants are not eligible for settlement services, despite the fact that they have often undergone multiple traumatic experiences, and face complicated processing challenges in Canada. It is deeply unfair that some of the most vulnerable newcomers receive the least support.
People making claims face numerous administrative barriers that add unnecessarily to the appearance of disorder. With fewer administrative barriers, quicker access to work permits, and provision of appropriate community services, we will see that Canada is capable of meeting the needs of those who come asking for our protection.
The sooner they feel safe and well-established, the sooner they will be able to move forward with their life plans and continue to enrich the social fabric of Canadian society.