For immediate release
6 December 2006


Montreal – The Canadian Council for Refugees today released a submission made to the federal Cabinet arguing that the United States can no longer be considered a safe third country for refugees.

“Developments in the US over the past two years mean that the US can no longer properly be considered a safe third country, if it ever was,” said Elizabeth McWeeny, CCR President.  “The law states that to be designated safe, a country must comply with its obligations not to send people to persecution or torture. It is now clear that the US has sent people to torture.  We urge Cabinet to review the situation in the US, as required by law, and to recognize that closing the door on refugees at our border with the US puts their lives in danger.  The government must end the designation of the US as a safe third country.”

The CCR submission presents evidence that, since the US was designated as a safe third country, there have been a series of developments that mean that the US fails to meet the safe third country test, according to the definition and the factors established in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.  The Act requires the Cabinet to keep under continuing review whether the US complies with its non-refoulement obligations; its policies and practices with respect to the Refugee Convention and the Convention Against Torture (CAT); and its human rights record.

“There are substantive and systemic problems in US refugee law – improper filing deadlines, arbitrary and excessive corroboration requirements, lack of legal representation, among others,” said Deborah Anker, Director of the Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program at Harvard Law School. “The result is a real risk that a refugee returned to the United States will ultimately suffer refoulement to persecution.”

“Although the United States has ratified CAT, for the past several years it has routinely flouted key provisions of this treaty in rabid pursuit of its misguided counter-terrorism policy,” said Steven Watt of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “The CIA’s rendition program for example has seen hundreds of men, such as Maher Arar, flown to interrogation in countries long known to employ torture or alternatively disappeared into US-run torture cells overseas. The United States should no longer be considered a safe third country for those seeking refuge from torture.”

The submission to Cabinet, Less safe than ever, is available at  The Executive summary is at

Colleen French, CCR Communications Coordinator, (514) 277-7223 (ext. 1)
Deborah Anker, Harvard Law School, (617) 584-2974
Steven Watt, ACLU, (212) 519-7870 or (646) 206-2025 (cell)

The Canadian Council for Refugees is a non-profit umbrella organization committed to the rights and protection of refugees in Canada and around the world and to the settlement of refugees and immigrants in Canada. The membership is made up of over 170 organizations involved in refugee sponsorship and protection and in newcomer settlement. The CCR serves the networking, information-exchange and advocacy needs of its membership.

6839 Drolet, #302, Montréal, QC, Canada H2S 2T1 TEL.: 514 277-7223 FAX : (514) 277-1447


Challenging the designation of the US as a safe third country for refugees

December 2006

Designation of the US as a safe third country
In 2004, the federal Cabinet adopted regulations designating the United States as a safe third country under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.  The designation took effect on 29 December 2004.  Since that date, refugee claimants attempting to seek Canada’s protection at the US-Canada border are ineligible to make a refugee claim in Canada, with some exceptions, and are instead returned to the US where it is alleged they can find protection if they need it.

The introduction of the safe third country rule has led to a dramatic decrease in the number of refugee claimants in Canada (2005 saw the lowest number of claimants since the mid-1980s).  Refugees who are wrongly denied protection in the US find Canada’s door closed on them.  Colombians in particular have been negatively affected, both because they were the largest group making claims at the border before the introduction of safe third, and because many Colombians fall through the cracks of the US refugee system.

For more information on the impacts of the safe third country rule, see CCR’s report, Closing the Front Door on Refugees: Report on the First Year of the Safe Third Country Agreement, 29 December 2005,

Legal obligations regarding review of safe third country designation
Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act authorizes the Governor in Council (the Cabinet) to adopt regulations:

“Designating countries that comply with Article 33 of the Refugee Convention and Article 3 of the Convention Against Torture.” (IRPA 102(1)(a))

Article 33 of the Refugee Convention and Article 3 of the Convention against Torture contain the non-refoulement obligations, i.e. the obligations on states not to send refugees back to persecution or anyone to torture.

The Act further stipulates at subsection 102(2) that the following factors are to be considered in so designating a country:

(a) whether the country is a party to the Refugee Convention and to the Convention against Torture;

(b) its policies and practices with respect to claims under the Refugee Convention and with respect to obligations under the Convention against Torture;

(c) its human rights record; and

(d) whether it is party to an agreement with the Government of Canada for the purpose of sharing responsibility with respect to claims for refugee protection.

Subsection 102(3) states that “[t]he Governor in Council must ensure the continuing review of factors set out in subsection (2) [quoted above] with respect to each designated country”.

Despite the very significant developments in the US since its designation as safe third country, it does not appear that the federal Cabinet has reviewed its status.

CCR submission to Cabinet
In November 2006, the Canadian Council for Refugees made a submission to Cabinet, presenting the evidence that the US can no longer properly be considered a safe third country, given the definition and factors to consider established by Canadian law.  This submission is now made public under the title Less safe than ever.  The Executive Summary is available at The full report is available at

Legal challenge of safe third country
The Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnesty International and the Canadian Council of Churches have launched a court challenge of safe third country, along with a Colombian asylum seeker in the US.  The challenge argues that the designation of the US as a safe third country is wrong in law and that sending refugee claimants back to the US without hearing their claim violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Canada’s international human rights obligations.  The Federal Court hearing on the case is scheduled for February 2007.