The Canadian Council for Refugees is highly concerned with the recent expansion of the Safe Third Country Agreement and its devastating impacts on tens of thousands of people who have been forcibly displaced and are seeking protection. Their fundamental rights need to be at the centre of Canada’s concerns. Under international human rights law, Canada has legal obligations to uphold their right to protection.
The Agreement will force more people back to the US, where they will be at risk of arbitrary detention and potential return to persecution and possibly death. The Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on whether the existing Safe Third Country Agreement violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms – it is shocking that the Canadian government is extending the Agreement while the question of the constitutionality of the Agreement is before the Court.
Applying the Safe Third Country Agreement between Ports of Entry will not stop irregular crossings – it will simply make them more irregular, dangerous, and underground. We can expect to see an increased number of people hurt or even dying as they attempt risky routes across the border, including in deep winter. Unscrupulous smugglers will take advantage of the opportunity to make money out of people’s desperation.
The fact that the revised agreement requires people not to make a refugee claim within 14 days of entering Canada means that people may be under the control of smugglers for two weeks, vulnerable to abuse, and knowing that if they flee the smugglers they will lose the opportunity to make a refugee claim.
Although we welcome the government’s commitment to resettle 15,000 people from the Western Hemisphere, we note that this is a small number, compared to the number of people who will be barred from seeking refugee protection in Canada. It is a very small number compared to the more than 177,958 Ukrainians who have arrived in the country and the more than 592,405 whose applications have been approved. Since we have shown that we are able to create efficient pathways to safety and welcome considerable numbers of Europeans, we should be able to provide protection to the roughly over 40,000 people that cross the border seeking protection in a year.
The changes to the Agreement have been adopted without consultation or adequate preparation. In a democratic country, we expect that changes to the regulations will be publicly announced in advance, with an opportunity for comment - in this case, the government has exempted the regulatory change from the consultation process. Not only was there no consultation, but the implementation is extremely rushed, leaving people en route to Canada in the lurch, and not giving time to ensure that border officials are properly trained.
At a time when Canada is aiming to make its immigration system more inclusive, it is deeply regrettable that the government is working to exclude refugees, most of whom are racialized and extremely vulnerable.