Under the Safe Third Country Agreement, in effect since December 2004, Canada and the US each declare the other country safe for refugees and close the door on most refugee claimants at the US-Canada border.
In March 2023 the Safe Third Country Agreement was expanded to apply to people wherever they cross the border.
The Canadian Council for Refugees strenuously opposes the Agreement, because the US is not a safe country for all refugees. The CCR also denounces the purpose and effect of reducing the number of refugees who can seek Canada’s protection.
The CCR continues to call on the Canadian government to withdraw from the Safe Third Country Agreement. Shortly after it came into effect, the CCR participated in a legal challenge of the designation of the US as a safe third country. In that case, the Federal Court ruled that the US is not a safe third country, but the decision was overturned on appeal, on technical grounds (see here for more information).
In July 2017, the CCR joined with others in a new legal challenge.
On July 22, 2020 the Federal Court ruled that sending refugee claimants back to the USA under the Safe Third Country Agreement violates their right to liberty and security protected by section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Court therefore determined that the Canadian legislation designating the US as a safe third country is of no force or effect.
However, that decision was overturned at the Federal Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court of Canada then considered the case and rendered its decision in June 2023.
- The decision is disappointing because the Safe Third Country Agreement continues to be in effect, meaning that people will continue to be sent back to the US to face deportation, detention and solitary confinement
- The Supreme Court did not find the Safe Third Country Agreement to be constitutional. The question of whether equality rights under section 15 of the Charter are being violated was sent back to the Federal Court.
- The Supreme Court recognized that the US may not be a safe country for all refugees. The Court understood that there are safety valves in place at the border to prevent people being sent back to a violation of their Charter rights - however, we know in practice those safety valves are not accessible.
We continue to call on the Federal government to suspend the application of the Safe Third Country Agreement.
For practical information for refugee claimants entering from USA, see this resource
For more information about the origins of the Safe Third Country Agreement and the first legal challenge, see this page.