Leading human rights groups challenge Safe Third Country Agreement at Supreme Court of Canada

Canadian Council for Refugees
Amnesty International Canada
The Canadian Council of Churches

Media release

4 October 2022

Leading human rights groups challenge Safe Third Country Agreement at Supreme Court of Canada

Three leading Canadian human rights organizations, the Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnesty International Canada, and The Canadian Council of Churches, together with eight individual applicants, will appear before the Supreme Court of Canada on Thursday, October 6 to call for an end to a policy that cruelly bars many people from seeking refugee protection in Canada.

In effect since 2004, the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) prevents most people arriving at Canada’s land ports of entry from claiming refugee protection. However, as the organizations will argue, the practice of barring refugee claimants from seeking protection violates Canada’s human rights obligations under both the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and international law.

“The Safe Third Country Agreement is built on a false premise,” said Aleks Dughman-Manzur, President of the Canadian Council for Refugees. “The United States is not a safe place for refugee claimants escaping persecution. Despite the change in administration in the U.S., people sent back to the U.S. under the STCA continue to be at high risk of detention in abhorrent conditions. And some, including people facing gender-based persecution, are unfairly denied protection in the U.S. and sent back into danger in their countries of origin – a clear violation of their basic human rights.”

The ban imposed by the STCA applies to refugee claimants entering Canada at official land ports of entry. As a result, scores of people attempt dangerous border crossings into rural and remote areas of Canada. “Because of the STCA, vulnerable migrants are forced to cross into small border communities, at times in the dead of winter, risking frostbite, hypothermia, or worse, simply to have their claims for refugee protection heard,” said Ketty Nivyabandi, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada (English-Speaking). "Withdrawing from the STCA is one of the most impactful steps Canada can take to end irregular border crossings, allowing people to make refugee claims in a humane, safe, and orderly manner.”

The Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnesty International Canada, and The Canadian Council of Churches have twice challenged the legality of the STCA, once in 2007 and beginning again in 2017. In both cases, the challenges were successful at the Federal Court but were later overturned on technical grounds by the Federal Court of Appeal. It wasn’t until 2021 that the Supreme Court announced it would weigh in on the constitutionality of the STCA – a significant breakthrough in the campaign for the just, compassionate, and orderly treatment of people seeking refuge in Canada.

“We are our sister’s and our brother’s keeper,” said Pastor Peter Noteboom, General Secretary of The Canadian Council of Churches. “Canadians want Canada to live up to its human rights responsibilities and to be generous in welcoming refugees.”

Supporters of refugee rights will stage rallies on Thursday calling for Canada to withdraw from the Safe Third Country Agreement. A Toronto rally will take place outside the courthouse at 361 University Ave. (in front of the Pillars of Justice sculpture) starting at 1 p.m. ET. A Vancouver rally outside the Vancouver Art Gallery (750 Hornby St.) will commence at noon PT.

Media contacts

Janet Dench, Canadian Council for Refugees, media@ccrweb.ca, 514-223-0025

Cory Ruf, Media Officer, Amnesty International Canada (English section), media@amnesty.ca, 647-269-1795

Dr. Nicole Roccas, Communications Coordinator, The Canadian Council of Churches, communications@councilofchurches.ca, 416-972-9494

Watch the hearing online

The Supreme Court hearing will be webcast on Thursday October 6, beginning at 9:30am Eastern.

About the Safe Third Country legal challenge

At issue in the case is whether sending refugee claimants back to the US under the STCA violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. For more information about the legal challenge, see December 2021 media release (including the backgrounder) and the Supreme Court website (case 39749) for details, including the written arguments of the parties.