EMERSON, Man. â€” Tensions flared in a Manitoba border community as two Conservative members of Parliament called on the prime minister to visit Emerson and get a first-hand look at the influx of refugee claimants coming in from the United States through fields and ditches.
Local MP Ted Falk and immigration critic Michelle Rempel reiterated an accusation Friday that the Trudeau government is being soft on migrants and the potential safety threat the pose.
The two were quickly challenged by resident Joyce Dayton.
Trudeau "has opened the gate. He's welcoming people, like we (always) have in Canada," Dayton said to Rempel.
"All we're asking today is that people come to Canada legally," Rempel replied.
Another area resident, Tanya Neufeld, sided with Rempel and confronted Dayton.
"I am 100 per cent in support of immigration â€” legally, not illegally," Neufeld said.
A few hundred people have walked across unguarded fields in Emerson since Jan. 1.
Similar to asylum-seekers in Hemmingford, Que., and other areas, they avoid official border crossings because of the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, which stipulates that people who have made a claim in the United States must be turned back at Canadian border points.
If they get onto Canadian soil first, they fall under a section of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that says they can't be penalized if they are deemed to be refugees.
The law is based on the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, under which Canada and other countries agree not to penalize people with legitimate refugee claims.
Rempel was asked whether she thinks Canada should pull out of the convention.
"The question that you raise here is one that I think we should actually have a very strong debate on," she said.
"Canada actually has not talked about a lot of these issues, and ... this is a conversation that is very worthy of having right now, but also we need action in a short period of time."
Rempel defended the Third Country Agreement and called on the federal government to apply it to people who cross the border at unauthorized points as well.
She was contradicted by one of the people invited to speak at the news conference â€” Emerson Reeve Greg Janzen.
He said Ottawa should amend the deal and allow refugee claimants to make their case at official border posts, even if they have already asked for asylum in the United States. There is an official border crossing just west of Emerson.
"It would be much safer for these people that are coming into out town because this area ... there's no lights, no signage, nothing, so in the middle of the night, they don't know where they're going."
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, who has visited the region, said in Ottawa that both the RCMP and Canadian border services are doing their jobs. People who cross the border between official posts are vetted as thoroughly as any other refugee claimant, he said.
"When a person crosses the border in an irregular fashion, it's not a free ticket to Canada," he said.
Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press