Goodale calls talks to change Safe Third Country Agreements 'exploratory'
OTTAWA -- Canada is in "exploratory" talks with the United States to re-open the Safe Third Country Agreement, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Tuesday as he dismissed reports that the Liberals want the pact to encompass the entire border.
The aim would be to stem the flow of asylum seekers that have been coming into Canada from the U.S.
"It's a discussion we're having with the Americans about the various techniques that could be pursued on both sides of the border to ensure security and integrity," Goodale said as he left the weekly cabinet meeting.
"But this is very exploratory at the moment, scoping issues and potential solutions."
There have been reports this week that Canada wants the agreement rewritten to apply to the entire border.
But that kind of expansion would not be in Canada's interests and could actually pose safety issues, said Goodale.
"That ... would increase insecurity at the border and make the crossing issues less safe," he said.
He adds that Canada has not entered into formal talks with the Trump administration.
Under the Safe Third Country agreement, which took effect in December 2004, Canada and the U.S. recognize each other as safe places for refugee claimants to seek protection.
It means Canada can turn back potential refugees at the Canada-U.S. border on the basis they must pursue their claims in the U.S., the country where they first arrived.
Critics have fought the agreement, arguing the U.S. is not always a safe country for people fleeing persecution.
But the Opposition Conservatives have urged the Trudeau government to close a loophole in the agreement that has allowed asylum claimants to cross into Canada away from marked border points and called the latest discussions with the U.S. administration "too little, too late."
"Not only are these discussions taking place too late, the Trudeau government has failed to be transparent," immigration critic Michelle Rempel said in a statement.
She noted that Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen has stated since last fall and as recently as March 19 that the government had not spoken to the United States about renegotiating the agreement.
"This is in direct contradiction to today's reports that claim discussions began last September," she said.