Here’s a crazy idea: What if we actually sent the signal to the thousands of people crossing illegally into Canada that they shouldn’t be crossing illegally into Canada?
Take a look at the Google Maps street view of Roxham Rd., the rural road that runs up to the Canada-U.S. border in Champlain, N.Y., and Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que. It’s a pretty old image, dated September 2011.
There’s a space of about 10 metres of grass that breaks up the two roads, making it clear this is not a throughway. The grass is very lush. None of it has been tamped down, there’s no natural foot path that’s developed from regular traffic. Because, of course, it’s illegal to cross there, either by vehicle or foot.
That was then. It all looks very different now. We’ve since added trailers, tents, chairs, desks and bathrooms. There’s food available on site. What should only be an empty meeting of two dead roads has since turned into a busy border crossing.
It shouldn’t be this way. Go just four kilometres to the east and you’ll find the official Lacolle crossing. Or go to the west just six kilometres and you’ll come to the official Hemmingford crossing. There is no shortage of real border crossings for people looking to enter Canada.
Yet, the more than 7,000 people who have crossed at Roxham Rd. so far this year have avoided these entry points. They know they’ll be turned away from official ports because while Canada accepts refugees from around the world, we don’t accept them from the United States. However due to a loophole in our agreement with the U.S., they can make a claim if they manage to get across the border illegally.
While the first influx were largely Haitian nationals, Roxham has become a destination for anyone who wants to avoid official channels. There are people coming from Yemen, a country besieged with terrorists. There have been people charged with possession of child pornography. The Criminal Intelligence Service Canada has even sent out a warning that members of the extremely violent MS-13 gang are attempting to cross.
Meanwhile, it’s causing havoc for governments. Quebec services are strained and Toronto mayor John Tory said asylum seekers are clogging the shelter system, costing around $65 million annually. Plus, border agents have been reassigned from Pearson airport to Quebec, which will cause delays for law-abiding travellers.
It’s also caused social strife in Quebec as open borders advocates scuffle both verbally and physically with protesting nationalists. Then, there are the stories of trafficking and others profiteering off this fiasco. The whole thing is a mess.
The lack of interest on the part of the federal government to solve this problem is alarming. Trudeau basically just sent Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen to Miami to ask Haitians living there to kindly not come north and that’s been the extent of his efforts to dissuade them.
There’s also Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel’s recommendation to declare the whole border an official port of entry, which would mean people could no longer seek asylum regardless of where they cross into Canada. So far, the government hasn’t budged on this.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has himself been blamed for this whole mess, with his #WelcomeToCanada hashtag activism from early 2017 that signalled Canada has open borders. Government documents obtained by Postmedia confirmed this caused serious headaches for Canadian departments.
This shows that symbolism matters. Refugees came because they were given the impression they should come. And when you look at how comfortable and easy we’ve made the Roxham Rd. crossing, can you blame them?
Let’s try a little experiment then. Let’s reverse those visual cues. Get rid of the trailers and tents. Then, build a wall or more likely a fence that connects the Hemmingford crossing with the Lacolle one.
That’s a stretch about 10 kilometres long. We can take it down in a couple of years once this all calms down.
One Conservative politician told me they were reluctant to advocate for this because asylum seekers would just cross at a different location. Maybe. Maybe not.
At least it would send a firm signal about illegal immigration into this country.
When I floated this idea to a senior Liberal strategist the other day he shrugged in agreement and said it made sense. That’s the funny thing. The Liberals could get away with this politically much easier than the Conservatives.
The big question is do they even want to do something about this problem? Trudeau’s troublesome tweet is still up. People are still retweeting it and engaging with it. Right now, the open door symbolism still stands.