GROUPS LAUNCH LEGAL CHALLENGE OF SAFE THIRD COUNTRY AGREEMENT
Toronto. The Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR), Amnesty International (AI) and the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC) launched today a legal challenge of the Safe Third Country Agreement, which went into force one year ago.
“We cannot stand by and see the government close the door on refugees, on the pretext that the United States can be relied on to protect them,” said Liz McWeeny, CCR President. “Canadians know that non-citizens’ rights are not necessarily protected by the US government, now of all times. We are asking the courts to rule that the Canada-US Safe Third Country Agreement is unconstitutional and in breach of international law. The US was not safe for Maher Arar, and it isn’t safe for refugees.”
The three organizations, joined by an asylum seeker in the US who is affected by the agreement, are asking the Federal Court to overturn the designation of the United States as a safe third country under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. They are arguing that the US does not meet the criteria for a safe third country because it does not respect its obligations under the Convention Against Torture and the Refugee Convention and that by returning refugee claimants to the US for determination, Canada is violating its international obligations towards refugees and their Charter rights to life, liberty and security of the person and to equality.
“This agreement is said to enhance the international protection of refugees. On the contrary, the agreement puts the lives of refugees at peril,” said Gloria Nafziger, Refugee Coordinator at Amnesty International. “There have been ongoing concerns that the US falls short of meeting its international obligations with respect to the protection of refugees and since the agreement took effect one year ago, new provisions in the United States have resulted in a continuing erosion of refugee rights.”
“Canadian churches have long been active sponsors of refugees in Canada, and over the years the Canadian Council of Churches has turned to the courts when the rights of refugees are threatened. We believe that this is an extremely important opportunity to see that the protections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are available to all people in Canada, and that access to those protections is not weakened,” said Karen Hamilton, General Secretary of the Canadian Council of Churches.
The CCR also released today a report, Closing the Front Door on Refugees: Report on the First Year of the Safe Third Country Agreement, showing that many of the worst fears about the Canada-US agreement are being realized. With the Canadian land border closed to most refugees, far fewer refugees are able to find protection in Canada. Instead, some are detained and deported from the US; some are forced to live without status in the US, in fear of arrest; some turn to smugglers to help them find a way to safety. The number of people claiming refuge in Canada is lower than at any time since the mid-1980s. The drop in claims made at the land border is especially dramatic, with only 51% as many claims as last year. Colombians have been particularly affected. The Canadian government does not appear interested in monitoring the ways in which the Agreement undermines the rights of refugees.
The report can be found on the CCR web site at www.web.ca/ccr/closingdoordec05.pdf
Contacts: Janet Dench, Executive Director, Canadian Council for Refugees (514) 277-7223 (ext. 2)
John Tackaberry, Amnesty International, 613-853-2142
The Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton, Canadian Council of Churches, 416-972-9494 (ext. 22) (cell: 416-522-3883)