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Legault hails Canada-U.S. deal on Roxham Road 'a great victory'

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Quebec Premier François Legault said he was "happy" that Roxham Road will be "closed" at midnight Friday as part of the agreement announced between Canada and the United States on asylum seekers.

Legault called it a "very good victory" for Quebec, and thanked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau twice at a news conference in Montreal. His remarks followed press conference between Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden in Ottawa.

Legault praised the work of his ministers in Ottawa and Washington on the issue, and also thanked President Biden, saying: "We know that, with everything we are going through right now, in Russia, in China, it is more important than ever to have good relations with the United States."

"You have before you a premier who is happy to know that tonight at midnight, finally, Roxham Road will be closed," Legault told reporters.

The agreement between Ottawa and Washington will make the 8,900-kilometre shared border an official crossing and lead to the turning back of asylum seekers who cross it, including at Roxham Road.

"Obviously, the fact that we had 40,000 people through Roxham Road in the last year, I think it's clear that even if there are still other people who will try to enter through other places, it is certain that we have just solved a large part of the problem," Legault said, adding that "it is the responsibility of the federal government to ensure that the border is respected."

Legault said the people of Quebec have always been welcoming, and that Quebec will continue to do its part and its "humanitarian duty."

"We will continue to take our share of asylum seekers, people who are badly taken in their country, it is our humanitarian duty," he added, while reiterating that services in Quebec "are very stretched, too stretched, currently."

"And I want to take this opportunity to underline the work that has been done by many people, whether in community groups, in schools, in hospitals, in municipalities, in social services of all kinds. I know that the last few months have been difficult," said Legault.

As part of the agreement, Canada is committed to welcoming an additional 15,000 migrants from the western hemisphere this year on humanitarian grounds and to providing them with economic opportunities.

During his press briefing, Legault did not elaborate on this aspect, saying that he did not have much information, adding that given the large number of migrants who have been received over the past year, "I think we have done our part" and that there is a "catch-up to be done so that there are more in the other provinces.

RULES 'STILL FAR FROM CLEAR'

The agreement announced Friday ensures that the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) will continue. Under the bilateral treaty, which Canada and the U.S. signed in 2004, a potential refugee who arrives at an official Canadian border crossing and has first set foot on U.S. soil is turned away, as he or she must pursue a refugee claim in the first "safe haven" he or she arrived in.

"Rather than repealing the Safe Third Country Agreement and allowing asylum seekers to pass through border crossings safely, the new agreement will instead likely create thousands of mini-Roxham Roads across the country, where people will end up entering anyway in precarious, dangerous conditions and at the mercy of smugglers," said Quebec Solidaire's immigration critic, Andrés Fontecilla, in a written statement.

Fontecilla said that the rules for implementing the new agreement were "still far from clear," especially with regard to "the 14-day interception period."

The new policy to turn back migrants is to apply to people who have crossed outside official U.S.-Canada border entry points for up to 14 days after the irregular crossing.

"We also have a lot of questions about the 15,000 cases that will be accepted: who will be selected and on what criteria? It is deplorable that no organization dedicated to the reception of asylum seekers or concerned citizens' group has been consulted on this agreement which will not solve the problem," said the QS MNA.

Parti Québécois MNA Pascal Bérubé, the party's critic for immigration, francization and integration, said on Twitter that the "closure of Roxham Road was necessary."

"It makes you wonder why we had to wait a year, a year during which the Quebec government was never informed, nor consulted, obviously," he said.

"It's a bit embarrassing even if the result was necessary."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on March 24, 2023. 

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