• Allison Baker

FACT CHECK: Are thousands of “illegal” refugee claimants crossing the US–Canada border?

Updated: Oct 26, 2018

FALSE. An influx of refugee claimants are crossing into Canada at unofficial border points, but their entry isn’t breaking any Canadian law.

Since last winter, news outlets across North America ranging from Forbes to the Calgary Herald have reported a surge in refugee claimants, sometimes called asylum seekers, travelling from the United States into Canada. According to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, between February 2017 and June 2018, approximately 29,828 claimants have crossed the border unofficially—meaning they crossed on foot outside of designated “open” ports of entry, which are secured and monitored by border inspectors.

Until this past July, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada referred to these refugee claimants as “illegal,” according to the CBC. The Toronto Sun has published articles about “illegal border crossers,” as have CTV News, Reuters, and the National Post. Even Prime Minister Trudeau and the Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship have used the word “illegal” in reference to refugee claimants entering at unofficial border points.

"‘Illegal’ or ‘irregular’? Debate about asylum-seekers needs to stop, experts warn," Global News

This designation is false. According to Section 133 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, an individual seeking asylum can enter Canada from any border point, but they are required to find an official port as soon as possible once they’ve arrived. They cannot be found guilty of an offense until their refugee claim has been processed; if the claim is accepted, their method of entry into the country becomes irrelevant, and if the claim is denied, they are more likely to be deported than charged with any crime.

In other words, Canadian law recognizes that those escaping life-threatening situations should not be expected to prioritize official entry points into the country. This is also part of the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which Canada signed nearly fifty years ago.

So what should we call refugee claimants entering Canada at unofficial border points? The federal government now calls them “irregular” border crossers. As Audrey Macklin, a professor and chair in Human Rights Law at the University of Toronto, told The Globe and Mail, the term “illegal” is not only inaccurate but also fuels misinformation about refugee claimants.