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Clickbait policies from Tory leadership hopefuls won’t stop asylum seekers

Maxime Bernier said he'd be willing to call the army to stop illegal border-crossers. Kevin O'Leary promised to override the section of the Constitution that guarantees the right to "life, liberty and security of the person." Kellie Leitch ran ads promising to "Crack down on illegal immigration."

In the last few days Conservative candidates have been desperate to recruit members who can vote for them before the party's deadline at 5 p.m. Tuesday. And the tool of choice was ill-considered, clickbait policies to stop border-crossers.

This was the leadership-campaign version of This Is Spinal Tap: The words made no sense but the amps were turned up to 11.

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Read more: Conservative leadership camps ratchet up plans to stop asylum seekers

Signing up sympathizers to party memberships is crucial to the campaigns, but it's not easy to get people to click a link and pay $15. Nuance doesn't help. A big bold solution for something that gets their blood boiling does.

In this case, it's the people who are crossing the U.S. border, in Manitoba or Quebec, avoiding official border posts so they can stay in Canada and claim refugee status. If those folks arrived at official border posts, they'd be turned back, but by slipping across in between, they can make a refugee claim. Major leadership candidates – Mr. Bernier, Mr. O'Leary, and Ms. Leitch might be the top three – are promising simple plans to stop it.

Mr. Bernier's call-in-the-army rhetoric may sound tough, but it has the advantage of being so vague it doesn't really mean anything. Ms. Leitch's home-stretch pitch focused on an ad blitz on sites like the Rebel and Breitbart – the U.S. site that was doggedly loyal to Donald Trump's agenda – but the Web banners about illegal border-crossers rested mainly on a slogan.

It was Mr. O'Leary who took the prize for Cracker Jack-box immigration policy.

He promised to use the notwithstanding clause of the Constitution to override the Charter of Rights so that the government can refuse refugee hearings to people who cross the border illegally.

Simple! Too bad it won't work as Mr. O'Leary claims.

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He forgot to mention that his policy wouldn't see those border-crossers sent back to the U.S. They'd be deported to their native country, whether it's Somalia, or Eritrea, or another, without a hearing to determine if they face execution or torture on their return.

The issue of the border-crossers stems from the 13-year-old Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S. It says that if someone shows up at an official border crossing and claims refugee status, Canada can turn the person back to claim asylum in the States. But the agreement doesn't apply to someone who crosses between those border posts.

Mr. O'Leary, in a video released on the weekend, insisted that "if the U.S. won't agree to closing the loophole …then Canada must act on its own." He said he'd use the notwithstanding clause to ensure those border-crossers don't get refugee hearings. "Let's get real and close the loophole ourselves," he said.

The thing is, then the U.S. still wouldn't take those people back.

Canada can't deport people to a country that won't accept them. So they'd be sent back to their country of origin, with no hearing to determine whether they might face torture or death. If Mr. O'Leary is serious, he presumably wouldn't worry about the risk they'd be tied to the back of a truck in Mogadishu.

Not all of the recent border-crossers will be accepted as legitimate refugees. Immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman said that those who spent five or six years in the U.S. might have more trouble because it can be harder to convince an Immigration and Refugee Board panel that claimants face persecution in their native land when they left long ago.

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Those who are rejected will be ordered removed. And if politicians are looking for ways to discourage illegal border-crossers, they should look for ways to speed up those hearings, so non-refugees are deported quickly, and new border-crossers are deterred.

But it's easier to recruit with a claim that you've got a simple solution: In a leadership debate in February, Ms. Leitch said she'd detain border-crossers and return them to the U.S. Yes, that's right: The U.S. won't take them back, and Ms. Leitch's solution is to send them back to the U.S.

So caveat emptor: these policies may be more about selling Conservative memberships than stopping border-crossers.

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About the Author
Chief political writer

Campbell Clark has been a political writer in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau since 2000. Before that he worked for The Montreal Gazette and the National Post. He writes about Canadian politics and foreign policy. More


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