Closing an unofficial border crossing in southern Quebec will not slow the arrival of asylum seekers, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday.
“If we close Roxham Road, people will cross elsewhere,” he told reporters in Ottawa. “We have an enormous border, and we’re not going to start arming or putting fences on it.”
On Wednesday, Quebec Premier François Legault called for Trudeau to close the makeshift crossing south of Montreal, saying that the province doesn’t have the capacity to care for migrants as they wait for their refugee claims to be processed.
Trudeau said intercepting irregular migrants at Roxham Road, where an RCMP post has been set up, allows Canadian authorities to conduct security verifications and to ensure that migrants are not “lost and illegal inside Canada.”
Negotiations are ongoing with the United States, Trudeau said, to change the Safe Third Country Agreement, which has led to the irregular crossings.
Under that agreement, which has been in place since 2004, asylum seekers who enter the U.S. must claim refugee status there and can be turned back if they attempt to enter Canada through an official border crossing to make a refugee claim. However, asylum seekers who cross the border irregularly can make a refugee claim once they are in Canada.
Discussions with the U.S. to change the agreement are “advancing well,” Trudeau said, but he added that the subject is delicate for the Americans, because they are worried about the impact any changes could have on the country’s border with Mexico.
The RCMP have intercepted 7,013 asylum seekers who have crossed irregularly into Quebec from the United States since the beginning of the year, according to data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
In 2019, more than 16,000 asylum seekers were intercepted by the RCMP after crossing irregularly into Quebec.