From the start, NDP Immigration Critic Jenny Kwan has been calling out Conservative dog-whistle politics that falsely label refugees as law-breaking “illegals.”
Good for her. Unfortunately, it’s been a lonely task.
Canadian law is very clear: someone crossing our border at any place to claim asylum, whether the trip is made “directly or indirectly” from the country of persecution, “may not be charged with an offence.”
If the law says you can’t be charged, it’s not illegal. That’s not just the plain meaning. It’s the opinion of legal experts across Canada.
Yet Kwan has repeatedly had to remind Liberals and Conservatives of the facts about Canada’s laws.
Conservative Immigration Critic Michelle Rempel has pumped out dog-whistle “illegal” rhetoric that perks up the ears of her far-right followers. And it gives cover for the anti-refugee policies of U.S. President Trump. It’s disgraceful.
What’s also disgraceful is, rather than collapse the Conservatives’ false framing of the asylum-seeker issue, Liberals repeatedly adopted it. Very not progressive.
Back in March, Liberal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen told a Commons Committee it was “accurate” to say it is illegal to cross the border to claim asylum. And, in an April Question Period, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also told MPs “crossing a border between official border crossings is illegal”. Both times the NDP’s Kwan responded with the facts.
It actually gets worse. Rempel has openly proposed to close our entire southern border to asylum-seekers, sending them back to Trump’s refugee system. And, according to a Globe and Mail report, Trudeau’s government has privately proposed this idea to the Trump administration.
Closing our southern border would signal Canadian support for Trump’s refugee processes. It would adopt Trump’s refugee laws as the de facto Canadian standard for refugees at our southern border. It would be complicity with Trump’s expanded use of detainment. His denial of appeal rights. Narrowing the criteria for acceptance. Taking kids away from their parents.
None of Trump’s anti-refugee policies should surprise. He believes there are “very fine people” among neo-Nazi and KKK groups. What should be surprising – shocking, disturbing, awful – is Canadian politicians agreeing to implement Trump’s standards.
If the Liberals wanted to end border-crossing, they can do it almost instantly. As Kwan has pointed out, asylum-seekers cross between controlled border points because a 2004 Canada-US agreement requires Canadian border officers to refuse to take a claim at a controlled point.
That 2004 agreement worked reasonably well until Trump came along. But now there is an exodus caused by Trump’s vile racist-tinged politics and refugee laws. Suspending the 2004 agreement would allow asylum claims to be made in an orderly way at regular border points. Under Canadian law.
Two weeks ago it looked like the Liberals might starting heading in Kwan’s direction. Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen finally started a counter-attack to reframe the issue based on empathy – and facts.
But Trudeau’s cabinet shuffle last week made Bill Blair the point-man on “border security” issues, rejoining the Conservatives’ lawbreaker framing.
And remember, as Toronto’s Police Chief, Blair was an enthusiastic supporter of police carding. During his term, the Toronto G20 protests were grossly mishandled, detaining thousands of lawful protesters and even casual passers-by. Everyone is an illegal lawbreaker. Even if they’re not.
But let’s see what Blair says in the next days. It is never too late to fight dog-whistle politics.
Tom Parkin is a former NDP staffer and social democrat media commentator