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Trudeau may be seeking to widen the Safe Third Country agreement rather than rescinding it

Refugees welcome!

The Council of Canadians has long opposed the so-called Safe Third Country agreement with the United States.

In 2005, Maude Barlow wrote, “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.”

The Globe and Mail has explained, “The Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the United States, signed in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, means that with few exceptions, refugee claimants must make their claim in the first safe country they arrive in. That means virtually all asylum seekers attempting to enter Canada through a U.S. port of entry will be turned away. But because Canada is a signatory of the United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention, asylum seekers entering the country between border points are not automatically deported and may make asylum claims.”

In other words, the 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.

Now Reuters reports, “Canada wants the agreement rewritten to apply to the entire border. …’We’d like to be able to get [the United States] to agree that we can, if somebody comes across, we just send them back’, [a Canadian official with knowledge of the discussions] told Reuters on Friday, adding Canada had raised the issue ‘at least a dozen’ times since. …The Department of Homeland Security is reviewing Canada’s proposal and has not yet made a decision, a spokeswoman said.”

CBC notes, “Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, who has previously defended the Safe Third Country Agreement, recently hinted it could be time to change the pact. ‘The agreement is ripe to be modernized, but of course it would take an agreement with the United States to do that, and of course it’s not something we can unilaterally do’…”

And Global News adds, “Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel said Tuesday that her party has been calling on the government to extend the agreement and close the loophole for months. The Reuters report from Monday night indicates Ottawa began reaching out to Washington as early as September.”

Last year, the Council of Canadians launched an online action alert calling on the Trudeau government to rescind the Safe Third Country agreement. That position is shared by 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.

While Trudeau is seeking a seat for Canada on the United Nations Security Council in 2021-22, it’s not clear how the government is reconciling its proposal to widen the Safe Third Country agreement with its obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention overseen by the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.

For numerous blogs highlighting the Council of Canadians’ opposition to the Safe Third Country Agreement, please click here.