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Public Safety Minister Goodale & US Homeland Security Secretary discuss asylum seekers

Goodale greets Kelly on Parliament Hill, March 10.

The Council of Canadians has been calling on the Trudeau government to rescind the Canada-US Safe Third Country agreement.

In short, the agreement, which came into effect in 2004 under George W. Bush and Paul Martin, says that individuals seeking asylum must make a claim in the first country they arrive in – either Canada or the United States. That means that Canada must send claimants entering from the US back to that country on the premise that the US is a safe country. But migrants who cross an open field rather than at an official border post are not covered by the agreement and therefore have the right to make a refugee claim in Canada and not be sent back to the United States.

Given the Trump administration’s imposition of travel bans on travellers from several Muslim-majority countries, plus the increase in hate-crimes against Muslims and the growth in the number of anti-Muslim hate groups in the US, as well as the overall xenophobic, anti-immigrant tone of the Trump administration, migrants are increasingly fleeing from the US to Canada to file their asylum claims.

This past Friday (March 10), Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale met with US Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. Kelly is the retired four-star US Marine Corps general who wrote a memo last month proposing that as many as 100,000 National Guard troops be mobilized to round up unauthorized immigrants in the US.

When Kelly was asked why he thought there was an increase in the number of irregular border crossings, he replied he was “perplexed” by the situation.

Now, Goodale writes in a report on that meeting, “When my American counterpart, US Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, came to Ottawa last Friday, we had a lot to talk about. …One topic I discussed in particular with Secretary Kelly was the influx of asylum seekers coming into Canada by walking across the border at certain irregular locations. …These are people who feel they are in danger or at risk, and once they get themselves into Canada by whatever means, they claim asylum in this country for their personal protection. …We are working now on both sides of the border to determine exactly where these people are coming from, how and why.”

He adds, “To be clear – trying to slip across the border in an irregular manner is not a ‘free’ ticket to Canada. The asylum seekers are apprehended and secured by police or local authorities. Their identities are determined from both biographic and biometric information.  Health checks are done.  Their records are examined for any immigration, criminal or terrorist flags against both Canadian and international databases. Those who cannot be identified, are a flight risk or pose a danger to the public can be detained. They all go before the quasi-judicial Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) to adjudicate their status through due process.  If they are found to be inadmissible without a valid claim, deportation procedures are begun.”

And Goodale concludes, “As discussed with Secretary Kelly, both Canada and the United States are committed to sharing information about this situation so we can fully understand these migrant flows, both at and between Ports of Entry. We are also both committed to upholding our strong asylum systems and to humane and professional law enforcement.”

Amnesty International, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, the Canadian Council for Refugees, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, No One Is Illegal, the federal New Democratic Party, the Harvard Law School Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program, and more than 200 law professors have all called on Trudeau to scrap the Safe Third Country agreement.

We are profoundly disappointed that the public safety minister and the prime minister have chosen not to do so.

To tell the Trudeau government to immediately rescind the agreement, please go to our online action alert here.