KELOWNA, B.C. — Justin Trudeau says there’s nothing inconsistent about touting Canada as a welcoming country that embraces immigrants and refugees while simultaneously trying to head off another wave of irregular arrivals.
Indeed, the prime minister insisted Thursday that emphasizing openness to newcomers while insisting that immigration rules be followed “are not two separate things.”
Canadians embrace newcomers precisely because they have confidence in the integrity of the immigration system, he argued.
“Canadians are open because they know that immigration has been a success because of those rules, because of the support, because of the investments we make in integration,” Trudeau said as he wrapped up a two-day Liberal caucus retreat to plot strategy for the resumption of Parliament later this month.
Immigration issues are likely to be front and centre during the fall parliamentary sitting, thanks to the recent flood of would-be refugees, primarily Haitians fearing their protected status in the United States is about to end, crossing illegally into Quebec.
That follows a wave of irregular border crossers who braved freezing temperatures last winter to make their way from the U.S. into Manitoba and Quebec.
The Conservatives have blamed Trudeau for encouraging those irregular arrivals with what they deem a reckless response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s initial attempt last January to bar arrivals from predominantly Muslim countries.
“To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada,” Trudeau tweeted at the time.
More recently, Trudeau has counter-balanced his welcoming message with an emphasis on the need to follow the rules and efforts to dispel misconceptions about how easy it is to gain admittance to Canada.
That balancing act was on display during the caucus retreat.
On Wednesday, the government announced that it is dispatching Spanish-speaking Montreal MP Pablo Rodriguez to Los Angeles to head off a potential wave of Salvadorans and Hondurans and to clarify the process for making refugee claims — just as Haitian-born Liberal MP Emmanuel Dubourg was sent to Florida last month to an effort to stem the tide of Haitian refugee claimants.
Hours later, Trudeau made a surprise visit to a citizenship ceremony, where he extolled Canada as a model for the world, a place where diversity is celebrated and where newcomers are not just tolerated but embraced.
On Thursday, Trudeau signalled a willingness to accept Rohingya refugees, thousands of whom have fled Myanmar amid a brutal military crackdown that’s been characterized as genocide.
“We will always remain the open and compassionate country we are,” he said. “We have ongoing processes and rules of law that apply to our refugee process but, as always, Canadians stand ready to help.”
He also signalled a willingness to take in some of the estimated 800,000 young, educated “dreamers” who arrived illegally in the U.S. as children and have been allowed to stay under a program that Trump now intends to end.
“We will always continue to have a strong, rigorous but generous immigration system.”
Trudeau chided “the rhetoric of fear” that some people are trying to ramp up over the irregular arrivals, maintaining that the system has actually proven it can cope with the influx of border crossers.
“Yes, we have had to respond with extra resources and particular measures in certain places but that has meant that we have defended the integrity and the rigour and the rules of our immigration system and those rules apply to everyone and anyone arriving in Canada,” he said.
“That is actually something that can give Canadians tremendous confidence, both in our ability to be a country that enforces rules… .while being the open, generous place that Canadians are so proud that we are.”
In Winnipeg, where the Conservatives were holding their own caucus retreat, Leader Andrew Scheer had a different take on Canadians’ attitudes toward the irregular arrivals: they’re angry that “people are trying to take advantage of our generous system.”
And he laid the blame squarely on the prime minister, asserting that “on Trudeau’s watch thousands have walked in, encouraged by his irresponsible comments that everyone will be welcome when he knows it’s not true.”
But for all his recent emphasis on the rules, Trudeau made no apologies for his unadorned “welcome to Canada” tweet.
“The message is one that Canada stands by, that if you’re fleeing terror and persecution and violence, well, that makes you a refugee,” he said.
“We welcome refugees into this country but there is a process to determine whether someone is a refugee, there are steps to go through.”