The dramatic jump in the number of people illegally entering Canada from the United States in order to claim refugee status is worrisome on a number of fronts.
Opposition politicians have reacted to it strongly, either by demanding that the illegals be automatically returned to the U.S., as Conservative MPs seem to be doing, or by insisting that they be let in wholesale, as the NDP would like.
Typically, the Liberal government has found the middle ground in the status quo. The Immigration Minister, Ahmed Hussen, has turned down calls to amend an agreement between the U.S. and Canada that is critical to current events.
Under the Safe Third Country Agreement, refugee claimants in either country are required to request refugee protection in the first country they arrive in, barring specific exemptions. Each country will refuse entry to the other's refugee claimants.
But there is an odd loophole: Only claimants who enter Canada legally, through a port of entry, are susceptible to being turned away. Anyone who walks across a poorly guarded field from the U.S. into Quebec or Manitoba – the two provinces that have seen a major uptick in this illegal activity – can make a refugee claim the minute they are arrested.
Throw Donald Trump into the mix, and things get really complicated. The President's new orders to deport millions of illegal immigrants, along with his temporary suspension of the United States Refugee Admissions Program, mean there are suddenly a lot more people in the U.S. looking for asylum in a welcoming country – and they may see Canada as their best option.
Ottawa now has to ask some tough questions. For one, is the U.S. still a safe haven for refugees? That is the central tenet of the safe countries agreement, and there are those who say the U.S. no longer fits the bill; that refugees there face detention, separation from their families and summary deportations.
For the moment, Canada is right to continue to live up to the Safe Third Country Agreement. In the end, it may not even matter. The real question is, Are we prepared for a refugee crisis?
In Quebec alone, the number of asylum claims rose from 42 in January, 2015, to 452 last month. As the U.S. ramps up Mr. Trump's deportation orders this year, those numbers could jump again.
What has Ottawa got in place to deal with a flood of humanity probing the world's longest unprotected border? Do we have the manpower and resources to handle it?
It would be good to know that Canada has a plan. So far, Ottawa has only given us platitudes about our compassionate and welcoming ways. It's not enough.