Source: Daniel Case/Wikimedia Commons

After months of media frenzy over Roxham Road, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals announced late in March that they are closing the door to the thousands of asylum-seekers entering Canada through the United States. The announcement took place during U.S. President Joe Biden’s much-anticipated visit in March when this deal to close Roxham, over a year in the making, was signed into law.

What Biden and Trudeau did was amend the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) to entirely eliminate the right to seek asylum in Canada for anyone entering the country through the United States. This deal is a little-concealed attack on vulnerable migrants, coming from a prime minister who claimed to welcome all with open arms no less.

The hypocrisy of the Safe Third Country Agreement

The STCA came into force in 2004, disallowing asylum claims for people entering through official land border crossings with the U.S.—but leaving open the possibility to do so if migrants enter through an “irregular” crossing like Roxham Road, a country road connecting Quebec and New York. The amendment closes this “loophole”, while promising to allow 15,000 more migrants to enter through “proper” channels per year. This is less than half as many as were able to find safety in Canada through irregular crossings in 2022.

The Liberals’ idea is that migrants should be forced to seek refuge in the first “safe” country they pass through, and according to the STCA, the U.S. and Canada are both “safe”—yes, the U.S., the country where refugee claimants are systematically caged and assaulted, LGBTQ people are under attack, and abortion rights are increasingly trampled.

Since 2017, 81,000 people have been able to enter Canada through irregular crossings to claim asylum, mainly through Roxham Road. Of these, 30,000 have been granted refugee status, with 23,000 claims still caught up in the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada’s bureaucracy, and most of the remainder being rejected.

Despite their at times progressive-sounding phraseology, this attack on migrant rights is not out of character for the Liberals. The STCA—which was signed in 2002 by then Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien and U.S. president George W. Bush, and came into effect in 2004—sought to curb migration and was criticised by the UN Human Rights Commission and Amnesty International for violating the right to seek refuge from persecution. It was also Chrétien’s Liberals who committed Canada to the war in Afghanistan, where tens of thousands of civilians were massacred and millions of refugees were created by NATO troops in the name of imperialism. It was again the Liberals who supported the destruction of Libya for its oil reserves, suffocating sanctions on Venezuela, destabilizing interventions in Haiti, and so on. The Liberals’ crimes and hypocrisies are too numerous to list, and consistently it is the workers of the world who have had to pay with their lives and homes. An increase in refugees should be no surprise after this track record of imperialist war.

Hue and cry over Roxham

Where did Trudeau’s unlimited compassion for “those fleeing persecution, terror, and war” go?

For months before the Biden visit, the CAQ and their lackeys, the Parti Québécois, had been whipping up a frenzy around the thousands of migrants entering the country through Roxham. The Bloc Québécois followed suit, and went as far as comparing the experience of refugees at Roxham Road to a vacation in an egregious ad

While the CAQ wasn’t as brazen, Legault hypocritically cited “human rights” concerns about strained health-care, education and social service systems, and inadequate housing, to say that Quebec simply has no capacity for more migrants—never mind that his government has been gutting these services. Indeed, Legault would very much like for workers to think that it is migrants, and not his government’s inaction, that are to blame for the hardships they experience.

Federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, happy to jump on the anti-migration xenophobic bandwagon, was scolded by Trudeau for his “simplistic” ultimatum to close the borders at Roxham Road within 30 days—the enlightened Liberal ministers and negotiators would find a more “humane” solution.

And yet, this is exactly what Trudeau did. Trudeau could not leave the “problem” of Roxham Road as ammunition for the Bloc or Conservatives to use against him. He bent to the right-wing frenzy, and his “humane” alternative to Poilievre’s “reckless” proposals is, in the end, the same: to turn most away to be deported or to seek more precarious ways of entering and surviving in the country. 

Indeed, it turns out Trudeau and his ministers had made the deal to amend the STCA behind closed doors over a year ago and kept its existence tightly guarded, even from elected MPs, for fear the plan would trigger a mass wave of migration before the amendment could take effect.

When pressed, the progressive veneer and moral posturing of Trudeau and the Liberals crumbles away.

Hypocrisy and distraction

The Liberals have vowed to accept 500,000 immigrants per year by 2025 hoping to solve the “labour shortage”, and in their great compassion for (Ukrainian) war refugees, said that they would accept an ‘“unlimited number” of Ukrainian migrants. The Liberals see no contradiction between those claims and barring the road to thousands of poor migrants.

The whole Roxham Road “scandal” has been a showcase of hypocrisy from start to finish. It has also been exploited by the CAQ, the PQ, and Poilievre as a convenient distraction from the most pressing issues of the working class, for which they have no solution. But this political theatre around Roxham will have very real repercussions on families looking for refuge.

Already, dozens of people have been arrested immediately after crossing into the country through Roxham since the road closure—many after spending months on the road and all of their savings to try to get to Canada. Even more cruelly, most were not told that they would be forever barred from applying for asylum if they entered and were arrested, now that they had “broken the law”. Only if they remain hidden and evade arrest for 14 days after arrival will they be able to once again legally apply for asylum. Immigration experts agree that all this will lead to is humanitarian catastrophe, as migrants have to take even greater risks to try to find refuge and work, with or without the protection of the law.

As we have explained before, wealthy capitalist countries like Canada have more than enough means to welcome the refugees that flee to them. The problem is that this wealth is in the hands of the capitalists. Furthermore, capitalist governments like Canada’s are often the cause of the migration in the first place. In the case of Roxham Road, many of the asylum seekers are Haitian families. For years, the Canadian state and its allies have conducted imperialist adventures into Haiti, destabilizing it to a point of pure atrocity.

The closure of Roxham Road will not put an end to the migrant “problem”, but will just make the lives of migrants more difficult and dangerous. Moreover, capitalist politicians always look to blame anyone but themselves for the state of decay in society. More often than not, the migrants play the role of scapegoat for all the problems that capitalism creates. Neither the Liberals, Conservatives, the CAQ, nor any of these establishment parties can be trusted. All of them will try to divide the working class and distract us from their own inability to solve any of the problems workers face.The truth is, there should be no issue with immigration in general—Canada is an incredibly wealthy country, and there are more than enough resources to satisfy the needs of all and provide good jobs and high standards of living for everyone. However, on the basis of the capitalist free market, and especially during an economic crisis, this does not materialize. Instead of investing resources where they’re needed, the capitalists hoard their wealth, and governments give handouts to their bourgeois friends. Only a socialist society, where resources are liberated from the straitjacket of private property and profit, can make this a reality.