An instructor in Brock University’s Centre for Canadian Studies believes the U.S. is using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to strong-arm Canada.
Ibrahim Berrada, who teaches Canadian Studies at Brock and is a former staffer on Parliament Hill, says President Donald Trump’s threat of a military presence along the U.S./Canada border is a heavy-handed response to illegal border crossings.
Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada would no longer accept asylum seekers during the pandemic, instead sending them back to their country of origin.
“This is a huge reversal from the approach adopted in the past,” says Berrada, who spent seven years working with different members of Parliament on various national and international portfolios. “It is too early to tell whether Canada will reverse this policy after the crisis, but it is unlikely, pending bilateral border negotiations.”
The decision, he notes, goes against several United Nations conventions, in particular the 1951 Convention on Status of Refugees, which has been ratified by Canada. Returning asylum seekers may also be difficult as many international flights remain grounded.
The Canada/U.S. border is governed by a Safe Third Country Agreement, meaning that if a refugee claimant enters the U.S., they can’t claim asylum in Canada since the U.S. is deemed a safe country. Refugees must claim asylum in the first safe country they land in.
“The issue remains whether asylum seekers will be returned to an unsafe country, violating international refugee laws,” says Berrada.
Trump is using the pandemic situation to enforce policies that would otherwise be shelved, Berrada says. Any changes to border crossing protocols require calm and composed negotiations.
“Strong-arming Canada into accepting a proposal during this pandemic is inappropriate,” he says. “It devalues Canadian-American relations and threatens their stability.”
While Berrada is confident current restrictions on travel between Canada and the U.S. will eventually be removed, he warns that U.S. plans to militarize the border will possibly continue if negotiations aren’t fruitful. Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland’s position as Canada’s chief negotiator is a sign that Canada will not take the issue lightly.
“Canadians should be wary about the possibility of a lingering military presence that may stretch beyond the pandemic,” says Berrada.
The U.S. military has no domestic policing capabilities and can only serve as a support force within American borders.
“Donald Trump is pulling out all the cards in an attempt to have a policy objective implemented and to be seen as a ‘tough on immigration’ leader prior to the fall election,” says Berrada.