No guarantees of asylum for refugees, Premier Couillard says

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SHERBROOKE — As the flow of people seeking asylum at the border continues, Premier Philippe Couillard has felt it necessary to clarify there is no guarantee people trying to get into Canada will be accepted.

Without naming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre directly for saying on Twitter refugees can count on Canada creating the impression the doors are wide open, Couillard said he felt the need to correct certain perceptions.

“Yes, we are a society with a compassionate, welcoming tradition that we are proud of, but we are also a society that believes in the rule of law and fairness,” Couillard told reporters Saturday. 

“This (obtaining asylum status) is very demanding, and difficult and success is far from guaranteed.”

Earlier, on his personal Facebook page, Couillard went further.

“It is unfortunate that vulnerable persons have allowed themselves to be convinced that their admission as refugees to Canada and with us in Quebec would be simple, even automatic,” Couillard wrote. “It is not the case.”

He goes on to say all requests for asylum will be treated in the usual way and under the same strict rules as before. Those who already applied for immigrant status will not be penalized.

Over the past few weeks, word has spread on social media it’s easy to get into Canada when, in reality, the statistics show only about half of the people who apply for asylum will be accepted. Of the 412 refugee claims made by Haitians and finalized in 2016, 207 were accepted.

Two tweets in particular spread like wildfire. On Jan. 28, Trudeau tweeted: “To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength. #WelcomeToCanada.”

From Coderre: “Message to Donald. Montreal proud sanctuary city. Newcomers and refugees are welcome. Diversity is our strength and part of our DNA.”

Arriving at a two day policy convention of the Liberal Party’s youth wing here, Couillard said he’s personally ready to make use of social media and do radio interviews to correct the perception.

“We must not take away people’s hopes … but we have to give people the real portrait of the situation, especially to people who are still in the United States and might be tempted to try the same thing.”

And while Couillard was careful not to blast Trudeau or Coderre harshly, he ripped into Coalition Avenir Québec leader François Legault, who this week took a hard line against allowing asylum-seekers into Canada and suggesting they should be turned away.

“If you follow through on his (Legault) logic, when he describes Quebec as a sieve — which by the way is false — ‘we’re going to build a wall, aren’t we Mr. Legault, and the Haitians will pay for it, right Mr. Legault?’ ”

He accused Legault of flip flopping on the refugee issue, noting in February Legault said Quebec should welcome people fleeing U.S. President Donald Trump’s policies with open arms.

“What does this tell us; that this (CAQ) is a party without orientations or profound values,” Couillard said. “We can’t have confidence in people like this.”

Earlier in the week, the opposition criticized the Trudeau and Couillard governments for their handling of the crisis. Legault described Quebec as wide open, a sieve, for new arrivals.

He said Quebec already lets in more immigrants than it can easily integrate with its limited resources.

Parti Québécois leader Jean-François Lisée accused Couillard and Trudeau of lying to the Haitian people because their chances of making a home here were slim.

“When they (Justin Trudeau and Philippe Couillard) say you are going to live here the rest of your life, it’s false,” Lisée said. “At least half of these people will be sent back.”

Couillard’s office responded with its own statement saying Legault is needlessly stirring up the fears and concerns some Quebecers may be feeling about the situation when he should be acting like a humanitarian leader in a crisis.

It said Legault had failed another leadership test and has no concrete alternatives to offer in the crisis. Lisée also ripped Legault, saying his idea of being able to block people at the border is impossible given current laws. He said Legault is indulging in “wishful thinking.”

On Saturday, Couillard argued the two opposition leaders are deliberately starting to talk about “foreigners,” because the economy is going well and they have little left to criticize the government.

“Apparently, it’s alway a good theme politically,” Couillard said. “We aren’t like this.”

Later, Guillaume Simard-Leduc, director of communications of the CAQ, issued a statement saying Couillard should stop treating people who think the government should discourage illegal border crossings with contempt.

He insisted Legault never proposed refusing immigrants at the border, but instead denounced the Liberal line inviting them to cross illegally.

But in an interview with Radio-Canada television Thursday, Legault said: “The Couillard government and Mme. (Kathleen) Weil (the immigration minister) and company really need to change their line and say: ‘If you come here illegally we are going to return you to your country.”

pauthier@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/philipauthier

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