Letter: Stop calling refugee claimants “illegal”

As refugee claimants continue to arrive at Canada’s border from the United States, Canadians have been engaged in vigorous debate on how we should respond. In Canada’s own House of Commons, some MPs have used language that assumes that crossing the border outside of an official port of entry is illegal. But international refugee law is clear that this is legal. It is incorrect to assume or claim that these refugees are breaking the law or that they are not in need of legitimate refugee protection.

CPJ has responded by writing to ask that all Members of Parliament be careful in their use of language surrounding border crossers from the United States. A more appropriate term is “irregular refugee claimants.”


June 2018

Dear Mr. Scheer,

On behalf of Citizens for Public Justice, I am writing today to ask that all Members of Parliament be careful in the use of language surrounding irregular border crossers from the U.S.

In light of last year’s increase in refugee claimants crossing the border from the U.S., members of your party have repeatedly responded in the House of Commons with language that assumes the illegality of this practice. In fact, international refugee law deems border crossing to receive asylum as legal.

Due to this language, an underlying and baseless assumption of criminality has been placed on an already marginalized population. In accordance with the UN’s 1951 Convention, refugee claimants have a right to be assessed on an individual and case-by-case basis. It is incorrect to assume, through the terminology of illegality, that these claimants are not in need of legitimate refugee protection.

While we are sure that this is not the intention of your party members and other Members of Parliament, their use of this term nonetheless ascribes notions of wrongdoing to individuals with whom these claims are yet to be determined. We believe that the repercussions of this, whether direct or otherwise, serve to sow public discord and create fear where fear should not be, and has not been, an issue.

As I’m sure you know, refugee claimants from the U.S. do not in fact pose a threat to Canada’s national security, and insinuations of such threats do not reflect reality. Members of the public should not receive misinformation about refugee claimants through incriminating language.

We ask that you please take note of these remarks, keeping in mind the influence and platform of elected officials, and the widespread consequences of their actions. At a time where millions of refugees are in desperate need all over the world, it is essential that Canada maintain its humanitarian and generous posture towards all refugees.

I look forward to your response and wait to hear of any steps you may be taking to address this issue.


Rev. James C. Dekker, Board Chair

Hon. Michelle Rempel, M.P.
Larry Maguire, M.P.
David Tilson, M.P.
Jenny Kwan, M.P.
Hon. Ahmed Hussen, P.C., M.P.
Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada
Jagmeet Singh, Leader of the New Democratic Party

Photo Credit: Flickr/Vmenkov

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