Safe Third Country Statement
Fredericton – The migrant justice group, No One Is Illegal Fredericton, condemns the upholding of the Safe Third Country Agreement by the Canadian government, as the Canada-U.S. agreement infringes upon the human rights of asylum-seekers. Under U.S. President Donald Trump and the Republican government's tightening of asylum rules and regulations since 2016, the U.S. no longer meets Canadian requirements to be deemed a safe country for refugees. As the Justin Trudeau-led Liberal government has recently promised improvements to the Canadian immigration system, we call for the Liberals to expand its policy to protect refugee rights and fulfill Canada’s international law obligations. No One is Illegal Fredericton calls for the Canadian government to act on the following:
1. As the UN’s refugee agency has effectively deemed the United States to not be meeting its asylum obligations, the Canadian government should suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States.
2. The Trudeau government must take a stand in protecting immigrants and asylum seekers from foreign persecution, including in the United States, and meet its international obligations.
Signed in 2002, the Safe Third Country Agreement compels border service agencies on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border to turn away asylum seekers traveling from the other country. Under the agreement, which came into effect in 2004, refugees are expected to apply for asylum in the first country they arrived in. The contentious deal sought to manage the flow of refugees across North America and has long infringed upon the recognized rights for refugees under The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Effectively, asylum seekers entering through the U.S.-Mexico border are prohibited from applying for asylum protection in Canada.
Asylum seekers who cross from the United States are not granted access to the system that determines who ‘deserves’ asylum due to the agreement. Often, asylum seekers who are turned away from Canada return to the U.S., facing detention, separation from their families and/or deportation. In such cases, they are provided with little/no legal counsel and are not granted a full hearing on their case as is required in Canada under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Those who are not detained or deported receive little support from the U.S. government, and their legal status in the country is often stuck in limbo. A recent policy allows for the US to deport refugees before they can make a refugee claim, often sending said persons back to countries where they are likely to face persecution. Women especially are under the threat of being deported following being turned back to the U.S., as immigration judges do not regard domestic violence as credible grounds for a refugee claim. Women who are escaping persecution and gender-based violence, who would meet the requirements for asylum in Canada, are being prohibited from applying due to the Safe Third Country Agreement.
Following the imposition of Executive Order 13769 (also known as the “Muslim Ban”) in 2016, the detainment of Central Americans who cross the Mexico-U.S. border, and the Trump administration’s family separation policy, the status of the US being a “safe” country for migrants has been called into question. On July 15th, 2019, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees condemned the U.S. policies, stating that they jeopardize asylum protection and fail to adhere to their international obligations. Later that week, Amnesty International called for Canada to suspend the agreement with the U.S., as the agreement does not guarantee asylum seekers are granted their rights. Alongside the Canadian Council for Refugees, the Canadian Council for Churches, and numerous other immigration lawyers, the activist organization has challenged the Safe Third Country Agreement in federal court, and a justice decision determining if the agreement is constitutional is forthcoming.
The Canadian government has failed to adequately address those concerns, as former Minister of Border Security Bill Blair has insisted that the US is a safe country for refugees. It has denied that the recent anti-immigrant policies by the U.S. government have endangered thousands of asylum seekers, thus not meeting the international standards that they are expected to uphold. Through the amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act in the omnibus bill C-97 of early 2019, refugees who had applied for asylum in other countries will be deemed ineligible for refuge in Canada. Such amendments allow for an asylum seeker to be deported without a full hearing, which violates the Canadian Charter as affirmed by the Supreme Court case Singh v. Canada (1985). The Supreme Court of Canada’s decision on the case determined that Charter rights extend to everyone on Canadian soil, not just citizens. Further, the Canadian Liberal government, led by Justin Trudeau, has expressed its desire to alter the agreement to extend across the whole border, not limited to official land, air, and sea crossings as under the current policy. Their challenging of refugee eligibility is out of step with recent platform promises to implement pro-immigration policies by the Liberal Party of Canada. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms must be upheld for all persons in Canada, including those seeking refuge from persecution.