Premier François Legault is urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to redirect all asylum seekers entering Quebec to other provinces “as soon as they arrive at the border.”
Legault issued this request to Trudeau in a letter obtained by Radio-Canada.
That letter is the latest attempt by the Quebec government to put pressure on Ottawa to reduce the flow of asylum seekers entering the province, especially through the irregular border crossing at Roxham Road.
Last week, Quebec Immigration Minister Christine Fréchette said the province’s message was finally getting through, as more migrants entering the country through Roxham Road were being sent to Ontario and other provinces.
In his letter, the premier called for all asylum seekers to be redirected to other parts of the country, “regardless of their profile.”
He described the current situation as “untenable.”
According to Legault, the number of crossings by asylum seekers — mostly through Roxham Road — “exploded” in 2022 with roughly 39,000 irregular entries, in addition to about 20,000 regular entries.
“Quebec has taken on a completely disproportionate share of Canada’s asylum seekers,” the letter reads. “This influx cannot continue. Quebec’s capacity to receive refugees has been exceeded.”
The Quebec government says the capacity of both the province’s public services and the community organizations that provide direct support to refugee claimants have been stretched beyond their limits.
As a result, Legault says it is now more difficult to provide humane, adequate accommodation and services to asylum seekers who are “struggling to find adequate housing and increasingly becoming homeless.”
Legault states that accommodating the increasing number of asylum seekers is also putting pressure on the province’s education system and its ability to protect the French language, most notably in Montreal.
“The massive arrival of tens of thousands of migrants in the Quebec metropolis, a significant proportion of whom do not speak French, greatly complicates our francization goals,” the letter reads.
In addition, the Quebec premier is demanding the province be reimbursed for all costs related to welcoming and integrating migrants in 2021 and 2022, a number he puts in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Legault also asks Trudeau to renegotiate the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States, a message he’s tried to hammer home repeatedly in the past.
The agreement, signed in 2002 between Canada and the United States, means that migrants must submit their asylum application in the first of the two countries they enter and cannot try a second time at an official border crossing.
It does not apply to irregular border crossings. That’s why people who enter Canada through Roxham Road cannot be turned away.
“Roxham Road will have to be closed some day, whether we like it or not,” Legault said in the letter. “It seems to me that it is your primary responsibility as prime minister of this country to ensure that these boundaries are respected.”
Quebec’s other leaders react
Parti Québécois Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon says Legault is not showing the strength needed to influence the federal government.
“The truth is that he is not taken seriously by Ottawa and his inability to even bring up the possibility of [Quebec] independence gives us no leverage,” he said.
Québec Solidaire co-spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois said asylum seekers often come to the province to reunite with their families and so should not be transferred against their will.
But he added that they need to be fairly distributed across the country.
Nadeau-Dubois also took aim at the Safe Third Country Agreement.
“The only lasting solution to put an end to the current situation remains the suspension or renegotiation of the Safe Third Country Agreement, so that these people can be welcomed properly, within the framework of an official, secure process that respects the rights of everyone,” he said.
For its part, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) acknowledged the pressure being put on Quebec and Ontario but underscored what it says is Canada’s obligation under the Refugee Convention to uphold a “fair and compassionate system” for asylum seekers, however they arrive.
“IRCC is now in the process of working with other provinces and municipalities to identify new destinations that have the capacity to accommodate asylum seekers,” said Stuart Isherwood, spokesperson for the IRCC.