Federal Government to Appeal Safe Third Country Agreement Ruling


Last Updated on August 25, 2020

Ottawa will appeal a Federal Court ruling saying the Safe Third Country Agreement on refugees with the U.S. violates the Canadian constitution.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said in a statement the appeal was being filed due to factual and legal errors in the findings.

Blair’s statement said: “There are important legal principles to be determined in this case, and it is the responsibility of the government of Canada to appeal to ensure clarity on the legal framework governing asylum law.

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“Canada has a long and proud tradition of providing protection to those who need it most by offering refuge to the world’s most vulnerable people, and the government of Canada remains firmly committed to upholding a compassionate, fair and orderly refugee protection system.

“The STCA remains a comprehensive vehicle to help accomplish that, based on the principle that people should claim asylum in the first safe country in which they arrive.”

The Safe Third Country Agreement, in place since 2004, means asylum seekers must make their refugee claim in the first ‘safe’ country to which they arrive.

In practice it means Canada can turn back potential refugee claimants who arrive at recognized land points of entry along the U.S. border, advising them to make their claims in the U.S.

It is also the reason thousands of asylum seekers have been flooded into Canada at unrecognized border points in recent years, using it as a back door into the Canadian system.

Federal Court Justice Ann Marie McDonald said in her July 22 decision that elements of the agreement violate the constitutional guarantee of life, liberty and security, suspending her decision for six months.

Refugee groups have long fought against the agreement, saying the U.S. is not a ‘safe’ country for claimants to be sent back to.

The original case was brought to court by a group including refugee claimants, the Canadian Council for Refugees, the Canadian Council of Churches and Amnesty International.

The group claimed that by sending people back to the U.S., they are potentially exposing them to detention and rights violations.

Justice McDonald agreed that those turned back faced imprisonment, saying the outcome was “inconsistent with the spirit and objective” of the Safe Third Country Agreement, resulting in a violation of rights.

The Safe Third Country Agreement has been further brought into the spotlight since Donald Trump became president in 2016.

Trump moved to threaten the refugee status of thousands in the U.S., causing them to flee north to Canada.

However, because of the agreement, claimants chose to cross into Canada at unrecognized border points, allowing them to enter the Canadian refugee system.

Since an initial surge of so-called ‘irregular border crossers’ in 2017, nearly 60,000 have flooded across the Canadian border according to official figures, the vast majority into Quebec via the now infamous Roxham Road crossing point.

Only since the border was closed to non-essential travel has a steady stream of roughly 1,000 people per month stopped. After 955 people crossed in March 2020, the combined figure for April, May and June is just 59 irregular border crossers.

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