The Safe Third Country Agreement allows Canada to reject most asylum seekers from the United States.
Canada’s Supreme Court has upheld a deal that would allow authorities to deny entry to asylum seekers from the United States.
The Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) allows asylum seekers to be refused on the grounds that they should have applied for asylum in the first “safe” country they arrived in, in this case the United States.
Refugee advocates argued in their court challenge that the agreement violated the rights of asylum seekers under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms — specifically their rights to life, liberty and security of person and to equal treatment .
Those who return to the United States face harsh detention conditions and the possibility of deportation or forcible return to their countries of origin, they said.
In a unanimous ruling released Friday, Judge Nicholas Cassirer agreed that returning to the United States may violate certain rights. He cited “the risk of being detained upon return there and certain aspects of the conditions of detention” as well as the risk of forced return.
However, he cites a legislative “safety valve” that includes “discretionary exemptions on humanitarian and compassionate or public policy grounds”, at least in theory, to protect those rights.
Still, he noted that “in practice, it is likely that executive decision makers have not always interpreted or deployed legislative safety valves appropriately,” he noted, according to a summary of the ruling released by the court.
The Supreme Court held that the designation of the United States as a safe third country did not violate the right to liberty and security of the person of refugee claimants. Read our plain language summary here: https://t.co/nv0jyJsy3u pic.twitter.com/hWtO41SQjC
— Supreme Court of Canada (@SCC_eng) June 16, 2023
Naqib Sarwary, an official with Amnesty International Canada, called the ruling “truly heartbreaking.”
He said the ruling upholds “an inhumane agreement that preserves the STCA and drives asylum seekers back to the United States and sends them taking unsafe routes in their quest for the safety of Canada.”
The agreement between the United States and Canada first came into effect in 2004, but only for official border crossings.
This year, U.S. President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a revised agreement that would apply across the border.
The move comes as Trudeau faces political pressure to address a rise in irregular border crossings, the vast majority in the eastern province of Quebec.
In 2022, the RCMP intercepted more than 39,500 asylum seekers who crossed the border illegally into Canada.
Supporters argue that the new agreement will force asylum seekers to take a more dangerous route into Canada.
“It’s very dangerous,” Frantz Andre, spokesman and coordinator of the Comite d’action des personnes sans statut, a Montreal-based asylum-seeker support group, told Al Jazeera in March.
“I have no doubt. People have gone too far and can’t go back. They know America is not a safe country,” Andre said.
Canada’s federal government has defended the agreement, insisting that the treatment of asylum seekers in the United States does not violate their rights and that there are adequate safeguards.