The Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the United States requires asylum seekers to apply in the first country they arrive in. This means people from Mexico or Central America, who would logically arrive on American soil first because of geographic proximity, cannot travel through the U.S. to apply for asylum in Canada at an official border crossing.
Considering the current U.S. administration’s stance on immigration, this doesn’t make seeking asylum an optimistic prospect. So Canadians are calling for a repeal of this agreement in order to help the many families recently separated by the U.S. or other families who wish to seek asylum in the future. Some are expressing their requests by writing letters to their Member of Parliament (MP) directly.
For issues like this, templates are often circulated electronically among advocates, but Joe Jordan, senior associate at Bluesky Strategy Group who works in government relations, says that might not be the most effective. According to Jordan, form letters may not even be seen by an MP personally, let alone taken seriously.
“MPs get numerous communications daily and generally have an administrative staff member vetting which ones the MP receives,” says Jordan, who was a Liberal MP from 1997 to 2004. “If the same letter is received many times with different signatures at the bottom, the message loses power and becomes ineffective. It’s obvious someone else wrote it, which makes it impersonal without reflecting much commitment from the sender.”
Instead, Jordan suggests the following tips to ensure a letter to an MP gets a response:
1. Ensure you indicate you are a constituent of the MP you are writing. Include your full name, date and home address. MPs will generally respond first to those in a position to vote for them during elections.
2. Hand-written, hard-copy letters mailed to MPs are more likely to get noticed, suggests Jordan. They signify the sender’s seriousness for the issue via the effort of manually write and posting the communication. (Letters to Members of Parliament at their parliamentary address do not require postage.)
3. Avoid inarticulate rants, insults, criticism or demands – courtesy goes a long way. While an issue may be emotionally charged and contentious, Jordan says, “Don’t let your passion exceed your knowledge.”
4. Know your facts. Jordan, also a member of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada since 2004, reveals, “Making claims that aren’t factually correct will only invalidate your concerns and most MPs will fact-check and call senders out on their inaccuracies.”
5. Be balanced in your request. “The grey area of politics is about balancing interests,” explains Jordan. “There’s always another side to everything. Demonstrate understanding of the balance of interests MPs face in order to open a door to conversation about the issue.” Jordan also advises constituents to frame the “ask” with a list of the pros and cons to identify their knowledge of the subject.
6. Pick up the phone. If letters go unanswered, MPs do accept calls and will often schedule a time to discuss matters of concern with those who request to do so. Concerned Canadians have the right to express their wishes to their elected officials and have those concerns acknowledged with a response.