Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he feels it is his role to see the Safe Third Country Agreement upgraded, in order to make sure Canadians can continue to have confidence in Canada's immigration system.
"Right now we have people crossing into Canada irregularly, between border crossings. And our responsibility as a country that is signatory to UN treaties of various types is, if someone asks for asylum in our country, we process their claims. Now, the challenge is, the increase in irregular migration has massively spiked over the past years, which is not just a challenge to individuals sometimes crossing at great personal risk... but it's also a challenge to Canadians' confidence that we have an immigration system that is rules-based, robust and applies evenly to everyone," Trudeau said in an English media exclusive interview on CTV's Your Morning Thursday, ahead of U.S. President Joe Biden's visit to Ottawa.
"That's why we've been working with the Americans over the past many months… to try and make sure that we're protecting those individuals and abiding by our international obligations of being a welcoming country."
Trudeau has been under pressure to make renegotiating the border pact a priority during Biden's visit and, while both sides have acknowledged the issue will come up, it remains to be seen how much progress will be accomplished during Biden's visit.
The cross-border agreement was signed in 2002, and came into effect in 2004. Despite some recent tweaks, talks about modernizing it have been ongoing since 2018. Under the pact, people seeking refugee status in either Canada or the U.S. must make their claim in the first country they enter.
That agreement applies only to official land border crossings, however, meaning asylum-seekers who manage to enter a country via an unofficial crossing — such as at Roxham Road — are not returned. Federal figures show more than 39,000 people claimed asylum after crossing into Canada by land in 2022, with most coming through Quebec.
"Upgrading the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States is part of giving Canadians reassurance, so that we can continue to bring in the people who need to come in, the people we need to come in," Trudeau said.
2019 AND 2021 ELECTIONS 'WERE THE RIGHT OUTCOMES'
In the interview, Trudeau also addressed "challenges around interference in our elections.”
"Our elections in 2019 and 2021 held. They were the right outcomes, that Canadians chose," Trudeau said.
Asked why he hasn't been more forthcoming about what he knew and when, and what was acted on in terms of the allegations of election interference attempts by China, Trudeau said those are "the kinds of questions that involve highly sensitive issues of national security."
"Which is where a public inquiry doesn't necessarily get into that. Whereas the panel of parliamentarians that we have that have got top secret clearance to look into it… David Johnston as our expert is going to be able to look at that, and reassure and give Canadians confidence," Trudeau said.
"Canadians can and should be reassured, not just by me, but by independent experts, that everything is being done to keep our democracy safe."
CHINA AND RUSSIA TRYING TO 'DESTABILIZE'
The prime minister also spoke about how Russia's war in Ukraine was a "wake up call" about not taking peace and stability for granted, and that at a "really difficult time in the world" it's becoming more important than ever that allied countries pull together.
"Seeing what authoritarian states like China and Russia and others are trying to do to destabilize not just our countries, but places around the world, we need to remain extra vigilant and strong, and that capacity to work together across alliances around the world, particularly with the Americans, is key to Canadians and key to the world's success," Trudeau said.