The Council of Canadians has long opposed the Safe Third Country agreement with the United States.
In 2005, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow wrote, “The Smart Border Accord includes a Safe Third Country agreement, which requires Canada to turn back refugee claimants who have arrived at our border via the United States. The agreement is ostensibly based on the principle that refugees must claim refuge in the first country they reach as long as that country is ‘safe’ for them. But it is really based on strong pressure from the Bush White House, which views refugees as a security problem, to create a seamless North American refugee system, with the terms and conditions set in Washington.”
At that time Barlow highlighted, “The Safe Third Country agreement violates refugee rights established in Canada twenty years ago. The Supreme Court declared that refugee claimants in Canada are entitled to basic rights, including the right to an oral hearing before being denied entry. Close to twelve thousand refugee claimants a year have passed through the United States to come to Canada in the last few years. In the first six months that the law was in effect, the number of refugee claimants arriving in Canada was about half the average.”
Now, the Toronto Star reports, “A Harvard University Law School review is the latest to warn about the negative impact of President Donald Trump’s executive orders on refugees, and is urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to reconsider the Safe Third Country Agreement. The report, released Wednesday by Harvard’s immigration and refugee clinical program, comes on the heels of the arrival of 22 asylum seekers from North Dakota, including a child and a baby, caught walking in thick snow across an unguarded border into Manitoba last weekend.”
Deborah Anker, head of the Harvard program, says, “We are not going to tell the Canadian government what to do, but the finding that the U.S. is safe is wrong and unfounded, and should be blown out of the water.”
The article adds, “[The Harvard University report] echoed the recent calls on Canada by refugee advocates, immigration lawyers and academics to suspend the treaty.” Noting the increased flow of asylum seekers crossing the Manitoba border, York University Osgoode Hall law professor Sean Rehaag says, “These are the expected consequences when Canada is closing its front door to asylum seekers via the U.S. and not let them in lawfully. They cannot go through the port of entry and must come through irregular means. Canada needs to create a safe, lawful way for people to come.”
And Toronto Star national affairs columnist Thomas Walkom has written, “If the Trudeau government truly believes the US under Trump has become anti-refugee, suspending this agreement and allowing more to apply for asylum at the border would be a practical way to help.”
Unfortunately, the Toronto Star highlights, “In the House of Commons Wednesday [Trudeau] refused to answer if the government would remove the safe country designation of the U.S.”
The Council of Canadians calls on the prime minister to rescind the Safe Country Agreement and outline how his government will address the implications of Trump’s immigration policies prior to his visit to the White House later this month.