The surge in asylum seekers crossing into Canada on foot from the U.S. has Karin Gordon worried about what some farmers might find in their fields this spring.

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The surge in asylum seekers crossing into Canada on foot from the U.S. has Karin Gordon worried about what some farmers might find in their fields this spring.

Maddie Pearlman expecting more than 30 law students to help out at Saturday's research-a-thon.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Maddie Pearlman expecting more than 30 law students to help out at Saturday's research-a-thon.

"I'm very concerned we will find the remains of bodies concealed under the snow," said Gordon, who has driven to Emerson, Man. many times to rescue refugee claimants. The rising tide of asylum seekers in Canada are fleeing anti-refugee rhetoric and orders issued by U.S. president Donald Trump. They're sneaking into Canada through frozen fields because if they show up at a port of entry, they'll be turned back under the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement.

Refugee advocates and legal minds in Canada say it's time to scrap the deal because the U.S. is no longer safe for refugees.

On Friday at noon and again at 6:30 p.m., the group No One Is Illegal is holding a rally in support of migrants and refugee claimants in Canada in front of 201 Portage Ave. They're calling on Mayor Brian Bowman to make Winnipeg a "sanctuary city," echoing a move by some U.S. mayors who've said their cities won't report undocumented residents to federal immigration authorities.

On Saturday morning, University of Manitoba law students are joining counterparts across Canada for a "research-a-thon" to help with the legal arguments challenging the Safe Third Country Agreement. Trump's order to suspend the U.S. refugee program prompted Maddie Pearlman to organize the Winnipeg event.

"I was particularly outraged. I was scared. I was confused," said Pearlman. Before law school, she got her master's degree in refugee studies and worked with newcomer kids at the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba for two years.

"I learned so much from these kids and their families — their past experiences, their lives. My time at IRCOM motivates me and inspires me to keep doing the work that I'm doing." What's happening in the U.S. is having an impact in Canada, she said. "It's all related and all part of the bigger issue of discrimination and intolerance and power." She's expecting more than 30 law students to help out at Saturday's research-a-thon.

Eight of their professors have already joined 200 academics across Canada calling on the Canadian government to pull out of the Safe Third Country Agreement. They've sent a letter to Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen saying that under Canada's immigration law, a country's human rights record and its compliance with international refugee and torture conventions have to be taken into consideration before it is considered "safe". Trump's words and actions disqualify it as a safe place for refugees, their letter said.

If Canada suspends the Safe Third Country deal, refugee claimants could safely enter Canada at a controlled border crossing — which would be better for everyone, said U of M law Prof. Shauna Labman.

"We should be talking about the fact that with the agreement in place, people are not going to cross into Canada at the (ports of entry)," said Labman. "That should be our concern." Suspending the deal would allow claimants to get dropped off at a port of entry where they would be screened by the Canada Border Services Agency. That would keep Canadians safer, and allow for their claims to be processed in a more orderly fashion, she said.

And it would cut down on criminal exploitation and human trafficking, said Abdi Ahmed, a leader in Winnipeg's Somali community.

"The Safe Third Country Agreement breeds smuggling," said Ahmed, coordinator of the federally-funded Immigration Partnership Winnipeg. "It opens up an opportunity for people who break the law and take advantage of refugees," he said.

Karin Gordon (left) travels to Emerson to pick up refugees who have made it across the border with the United States.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Karin Gordon (left) travels to Emerson to pick up refugees who have made it across the border with the United States.

"The best thing would be to provide an opportunity for vulnerable people to come to Canada in an orderly, organized way," he said.

That would be more humane for the asylum seeker, too, who wouldn't have to risk life or limb going through frozen fields to avoid ports of entry, said Labman. Two refugee claimants from Ghana nearly froze to death Dec. 24 walking for hours from North Dakota into Canada.

Trump's words and actions will drive many more refugees into Canada from the U.S., said Gordon, resettlement director for Hospitality House Refugee Ministry, a charity that helps privately-sponsored refugees. "They have put an embargo on receiving any and they seem to be closed completely to anybody who has a Muslim background," she said.

"People may be dying as a result." Gordon, who's helped refugee claimants on her own time, is the Winnipegger border officials called to fetch a soaking wet asylum seeker who swam down the Red River into Canada two summers ago. Yahya Samatar, an aid worker who fled Al-Shabaab terrorists in Somalia, made international headlines and was granted refugee protection in Canada.

"We only know about the ones who got here," said Gordon. "We won't know about the ones who didn't make it until spring."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.