Is the event happy or unhappy? It’s hard to tell, but the scene was perfectly choreographed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for the media invited to attend.
Around 8am on this Monday in September, cameras were set up at the end of Roxham Road, pointing the lens towards the white tin RCMP building. In the background, we can see the boundary mark on the edge of the canal, behind which are standing some American citizens who have come to witness the scene.
A mechanical excavator finally moved into the building. Then, with a loud crash of metal, the bucket tore through the walls and roof. A few minutes later, nothing was left of this huge hangar that the RCMP planted along the border in 2017 to accommodate the migrants who flocked there.
Briefly, the members of the Bridges Not Borders collective observed the scene with sad expressions. “Boys with their toys,” sighed one of them. “By showing all of this, they stand out,” said Patricia Woods. “It seems, at least, that’s what they want to do. »
Grace Bubeck was especially moved. This terrible building is also the place where the refugees took a decisive step in their migration, in a safe and organized way. They were welcomed there when they crossed the division that separated the border. They don’t have to wander in the desert or cross the sea on a life raft, as is the case in other parts of the world. “We talked about the European fortress. Now we can talk about the Canadian fortress.
“This is an important day for the RCMP,” Sergeant Charles Poirier told reporters gathered at the end of Roxham Road. “The RCMP has been on Roxham Road since the start of the migration crisis in 2017. Since then, approximately 113,000 migrants have been intercepted here by the RCMP.”
Following the changes to the Safe Third Country Agreement, “the number of migrants crossing Roxham Road has drastically decreased and our presence here is no longer necessary,” Sergeant Poirier said.
Since the new measures came into effect in March, migrants who cross the border irregularly are no longer received as much by the RCMP and Border Services Agency as before. They are arrested and deported to the United States unless they meet one of the exceptions under the Agreement. In five months, only 350 people tried to enter the country using the popular route that facilitates applying for asylum in Canada.
The RCMP “thanks the residents and neighbors of Roxham Road.” “We recognize that our police operations are a disruption to your quality of life.” The police force said it hoped his departure “which we hope will be permanent will give you peace of mind”.
But for members of the Bridges Not Borders organization, anxiety remains. “What do we do now when we see illegal immigrants? We don’t know,” complained Catherine Stratford. “People don’t stop crossing the border. »And they risk doing it in extremely dangerous conditions to escape the police who will send them back to the United States, he worries.
In this regard, the RCMP strongly advises against anyone attempting to enter illegally. “Pretending that it is easy to cross the border through fields or forests is not true. Difficult terrain. Others crossed with small children, the elderly, pregnant women. We see tragedies as a direct result of the risks these people take. In recent years, we have had to launch rescue operations for people lost in the woods. People are suffering from severe frostbite and hypothermia,” explained Mr. Poirier.
There will no longer be a 24-hour presence of RCMP patrol officers on Roxham Road. Atop a pole, an arsenal of surveillance cameras watch over the scene. The patrollers, said the RCMP, will continue to monitor the “entire territory”. There are now many crossings from Canada to the United States, Sergeant Poirier acknowledged. “We see them every day,” he said.
“We know there are smuggler networks in the territory and we have an ongoing investigation,” said Mr. Poirier. These smugglers demand “absolutely exorbitant amounts from migrants, so we can expect that in such a lucrative illegal market, organized crime is behind it”.
Demolition of the building on Roxham Road became necessary due to maintenance costs, according to Sergeant Poirier. “Since 2017, it has amounted to several million dollars.
The story so far
While the new terms of the Safe Third Country Agreement put an end to the flow of irregular entries on Roxham Road, the number of asylum seekers remains on the rise in Canada. In the first eight months of 2023, the country received 81,171 applicants, compared to 53,450 in the same period in 2022. Airline entries increased from 1,500 per month at the beginning of the year to 3,970 in July and 3,220 in August. . If Roxham Road had remained open, thousands of refugees would likely have used it, and Canada would have to accept 30,000 or 40,000 more refugees this year.