Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition is contributing little of use to the debate over how best to deal with the hundreds of refugees walking across the Canada-US border through fields and forests. Thanks to Donald Trump’s barrage of rashly conceived executive orders, immigrants to the United States seeking to stay there have become increasingly nervous that they will be deported without due process and are understandably seeking sanctuary in Canada. In Quebec alone, there was a 250 per cent increase in illegal crossings in January.
The Honourable Tony Clement, member of Parliament for Parry Sound-Muskoka, gave an interview recently to CBC Radio that should remind Canadians why they evicted Stephen Harper and his colleagues from government in the last election.
“Clement’s apparent inability to articulate a coherent alternative strategy on how to handle asylum seekers wading across the border in waist deep snow speaks volumes.”
This country’s attitude toward refugees and immigration in general was as pivotal then as it is today. Clement’s apparent inability to articulate a coherent alternative strategy on how to handle asylum seekers wading across the border in waist deep snow speaks volumes. As the critic for the public safety ministry for the Conservative Party of Canada, he has a duty to be informed and to explain to Canadians and the government alike what the government should be doing differently.
Yet when the CBC Radio show Montreal Daybreak reached out to him on Feb. 21 to get his views on how the police and government should be dealing with people crossing illegally in Manitoba, Quebec, and New Brunswick, he proved himself to be woefully unprepared or unwilling to make a constructive contribution to the debate.
The live interview started cordially enough with Clement acknowledging that we are a welcoming and compassionate society while expressing concerns about the safety of people crossing outside of official points of entry. After that, radio host Mike Finnerty asked Clement to explain his recent post on Twitter: “Illegal crossings are unsafe and a burden on local communities. Our laws should be enforced.” Which laws, challenged Finnerty, were not being enforced? Unable to answer, Clement simply kept repeating ad nauseum that the government needs to apply the law.
Clement was also asked about the Safe Third Country Agreement that Canada has with the United States. That agreement assumes that an immigrant having entered the US or Canada from a third country will seek refugee status in the US or Canada and not be able to move between the two. The agreement, signed in 2002, assumes that both countries will give refugee applicants a fair hearing. But with Trump contemplating mass deportations, that assumption is now up in the air.
The agreement has inherent flaws, however, beyond this new imbalance. If an immigrant can dodge the official point of entry, then the agreement does not apply. Hence the folks crossing through ditches and snow. So police in Canada are welcoming families with open arms, dutifully arresting them, fingerprinting them, and then releasing them into the general population where they will await years for a refugee hearing. They aren’t allowed to work in the meantime, but they can collect social assistance.
In contrast, there are applicants for Canadian citizenship that wait for years in their home countries, paying large fees and filling in endless forms for just the chance of living here. Those that just walk across the border have effectively jumped the queue.
Did Clement offer any of this? Are these not legitimate concerns for the public safety critic to espouse? Instead he just hung up on the broadcaster and sulked off to tweet “Way to go CBC. Taking a serious issue (illegal crossings) to shout me down on the air. Your tax dollars at work.” There was no shouting, just Clement refusing to answer even the most basic questions about his views.
It’s this sort of petulance that was Harper’s undoing. Once in a while at least, a little intellectual honesty goes a long way. Maybe he does not have an answer, but it’s going to take a lot of good will from all sides of the political spectrum to find the right response to this emerging border crisis.
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