1120 GMT July 09, 2020
In an open letter signed by, among others, former Liberal cabinet ministers Lloyd Axworthy and Allan Rock, Amnesty International urgeed Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to show "much needed global leadership when it comes to providing meaningful human rights protection for migrants and refugees," CBC reported.
The letter notes that according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), about 167 countries have fully or partially closed their borders, with at least 57 of those making no exceptions for people seeking refugee protection.
Canada became one of those countries when the Trudeau government struck a deal with the US in March to close the border to all nonessential traffic as part of global efforts to stop the spread of the pandemic.
The deal banned nearly everyone entering from the US from filing a refugee claim in Canada.
In April, the federal government modified the regulations somewhat to allow some refugees to claim asylum in Canada, but the new rules do not apply to those who cross the border through irregular crossings, such as the Roxham Road crossing between Quebec and New York State.
"We believe that Canada's approach — especially with regard to refugees entering from the US — must be improved so that we may truly and consistently demonstrate the international leadership that is so urgently required," the letter states.
"In light of the many ways that refugee protection in the US falls far short of crucial international legal obligations, it is important for Canada to open its borders to those who are unable to find protection and have their rights upheld there."
Allowing refugee claimants to cross into Canada and implementing public health measures — such as the 14-day quarantine that applies to other essential cross-border travel — would show the rest of the world "that there should be no choice between protecting refugees and protecting public health; the two can and must go hand in hand," says the letter.
Speaking to reporters in Ottawa on Friday, Trudeau said Canada has a strong tradition of protecting the most vulnerable around the world while also maintaining the rigor of its immigration systems.
"We will continue to defend our values, we will continue to stay true to the way Canadians are open and welcoming while expecting the rules to be followed," Trudeau said.
'More compassion, not less'
Canada’s New Democratic Party (NDP) immigration critic Jenny Kwan said she's been deeply disappointed by the Liberal approach.
"I agree that Canada needs to keep Canadians safe and our frontline workers focused on fighting COVID-19 but we must continue to respond to this global crisis with more compassion, not less," Kwan said.
"The current unprecedented situation with COVID-19 does not mean that the global forced displacement crisis is over, nor does it mean that the conditions for those fleeing persecution had stopped."
Canada has to abide by its commitments to international humanitarian and human rights law, Kwan said.
The decision by the federal government to send irregular border-crossers back into the US — potentially into the custody of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency — is deeply troubling, she said.