Last year, more than 20,000 asylum seekers from the U.S. crossed the Canadian border, but did not pass through official immigration checkpoints.
The asylum seekers did these irregular border crossings mostly through Quebec.
More are expected to do the same type of border crossings this year amid concerns about the direction of immigration policy in the U.S.
Although these crossings are irregular, they are not illegal in nature, according to Vancouver East MP Jenny Kwan.
The NDP Critic for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship raised this point Tuesday (April 24) at the House of Commons.
“It is not just about semantics, because the words used are absolutely critical,” Kwan said on the floor. “There is a major difference between the words ‘irregular’ and ‘illegal’. It is like saying to somebody that what they are doing is illegal versus saying to someone what they are doing is irregular. There is a difference.”
Kwan made the distinction in response to a motion filed by Conservative MP Michel Rempel of Calgary Nosehill.
Rempel’s motion sought a number of actions to “address the crisis created by the influx of thousands of illegal border crossers travelling across our southern border between ports of entry”.
According to Kwan, labelling these crossings as illegal is “plain wrong”.
“To be clear, asylum seekers crossing at unofficial border crossing are making irregular crossings, not illegal crossings,” Kwan said. “Crossing the border at a point not designated as a port of entry is not an offence under the Criminal Code.”
The Vancouver East MP cited Section 133 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IPRA) to prove her point.
The particular section of the said law states, “A person who has claimed refugee protection, and who came to Canada directly or indirectly from the country in respect of which the claim is made, may not be charged with an offence under… this Act or under… the Criminal Code, in relation to the coming into Canada of the person, pending disposition of their claim for refugee protection or if refugee protection is conferred.”
Kwan also cited another provision that states that “a person who seeks to enter Canada at a place other than a port of entry must appear without delay for examination at the port of entry that is nearest to that place”.
(Kwan’s office later clarified in response to an enquiry from the Georgia Straight that the last reference pertains to the immigration and refugee protection regulations, not IPRA.)
Rempel said that the crossings are plain illegal.
“We are arguing semantics over the fact that people are illegally entering our country instead of coming up with a plan to encourage orderly, planned migration,” Rempel said. “Why do members of the NDP want to do this? It is because they, with the Liberals, do not want to see a plan in place to encourage people to enter the country through planned, orderly migration.”
Kwan explained what happens after an irregular border crossing.
“Just so everyone is clear on the process, after crossing irregularly, individuals are taken into custody. They are questioned, and their identity is checked. Once cleared by the RCMP, they are handed over to the CBSA for processing. They are interviewed about their personal history and how they got to Canada. They are fingerprinted, photographed, and asked to fill out paperwork. A background check is done.
“If the person is deemed admissible, their case is transferred to the IRB [Immigration and Refugee Board] to adjudicate their refugee claim. No one is jumping the queue, and individuals found not to have met what is prescribed to be a refugee under Canadian law, his or her claim would be rejected by the IRB. That is how the system works and how it should work,” she said.
In short, according to Kwan, “These asylum seekers are following Canadian law.”
Rempel's motion was defeated.