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Trudeau cabinet fails to rescind Safe Third Country Agreement

The Trudeau cabinet at its swearing in, November 2015.

The Trudeau cabinet failed to rescind the Canada-US Safe Third Country Agreement at its meeting yesterday.

That agreement, reached by then-Liberal prime minster Paul Martin and then-US president George W. Bush, does not cover asylum-seekers who cross through unguarded sections of the Canada-US border. Otherwise the agreement restricts refugees to seeking asylum in the country of their arrival.

It was originally intended to block migrants arriving in Canada from entering the United States, but given the political situation in the US now, the dynamic has reversed as migrants landing in the US are now seeking to enter Canada.

Given the racist travel bans imposed by US President Donald Trump, the increase in the number of hate crimes against Muslims and immigrants in the US, and consideration by the US State Department of a plan to deploy 100,000 National Guard soldiers to round up undocumented migrants, many do not see the US as a “safe country”.

The Canadian Press has reported, “NDP Leader Tom Mulcair [has] pushed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to say whether he considers the U.S. is a safe country for refugees. Trudeau [has] not directly answer the question, repeating instead his conviction that Canada remains open and welcoming to all.”

Another Canadian Press article adds, “One what-if scenario was on everyone’s mind at the cabinet meeting Tuesday on the issue — hundreds of asylum seekers suddenly becoming thousands when the weather turns warm. Several federal agencies are planning for that possibility as they contemplate the point at which an increasing number of newcomers suddenly demands both a political and an operational response.”

Two options may be under consideration by the federal cabinet, neither of which are acceptable.

The Toronto Star reports, “To slow down irregular crossings, experts say, one option is for Canadian officials to ask their U.S. counterparts to intercept prospective refugees before they land on Canadian soil.”

And it notes, “Another option at Ottawa’s disposal, said Quebec immigration lawyer Mitchell Goldberg, is using a provision in the immigration laws introduced by the former Conservative government to allow the public safety minister to declare certain groups of refugees, such as irregular border crossers ‘designated foreign nationals’. That designation gives border enforcement officials the authority to detain the asylum-seekers, expedite the processing of their claims, prohibit their families from joining them and bar them from becoming permanent residents for five years even if their asylum claim is successful, Goldberg said.”

The Council of Canadians and numerous other groups have called on Trudeau to immediately rescind the Safe Third Country agreement. To add your voice to this demand, please go to our online action alert Welcome Refugees! Scrap the Safe Third Country Agreement

The issue is urgent. Asylum-seekers have been risking their lives to flee the United States – and US Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, a retired US Marine Corps General, will be in Ottawa this Friday (March 10) to meet with Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to discuss this issue.