Migrants from Somalia cross into Canada illegally from the United States by walking down a train track into the town of Emerson, Man., on Feb.26, 2017. A federal judge has struck down a key agreement on refugees between Canada and the United States. In a ruling today, Federal Court Justice Ann Marie McDonald says elements of the law underpinning the Safe Third Country Agreement violate constitutional guarantees of life, liberty and security.THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Migrants from Somalia cross into Canada illegally from the United States by walking down a train track into the town of Emerson, Man., on Feb.26, 2017. A federal judge has struck down a key agreement on refugees between Canada and the United States. In a ruling today, Federal Court Justice Ann Marie McDonald says elements of the law underpinning the Safe Third Country Agreement violate constitutional guarantees of life, liberty and security.THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Federal Court’s decision on Safe Third Country Agreement a `cautious victory for refugee rights’: advocates

Judge suspended her decision for six months to give the federal government a chance to respond

By Noushin Ziafati, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle Herald

Advocates in Nova Scotia say they are “cautiously optimistic” after Canada’s Federal Court recently ruled that the Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the United States to be unconstitutional and in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“It’s a landmark ruling,” said Julie Chamagne, executive director of the Halifax Refugee Clinic. “I’m cautiously optimistic (the federal government) won’t appeal.”

“(It’s) an important, but cautious victory for refugee rights,” said Tina Oh, a member of the advocacy group No One is Illegal – Halifax/K’jipuktuk.

Under the STCA, asylum seekers who try to cross the Canada-U.S. border are required to request refugee protection in the first “safe” country they arrived in, meaning Canadian border officials can turn migrants trying to enter Canada at an official border crossing back to the U.S.

READ MORE: Federal Court declares Canada-U.S. refugee pact unconstitutional

Federal rules STCA invalid, unconstitutional

In a decision delivered Wednesday, Federal Justice Ann Marie McDonald ruled the STCA is invalid and in violation of Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees the “right to life, liberty and security of a person,” citing the risk of detention for asylum seekers turned back to the U.S.

McDonald suspended her decision for six months to give the federal government a chance to respond. During this six-month period, the government can choose to suspend the STCA or appeal the decision.

“For six months, asylum seekers are still rejected,” said Oh.

In an email statement, Mary-Liz Power, spokesperson for Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair, said the government is “currently reviewing” the Federal Court’s decision and that the STCA continues to remain in effect over the next six months.

Power noted all foreign nationals making a claim for refugee protection that do not meet the exemptions under the STCA will be directed back to the U.S. in the meantime. Border services officers “will conduct queries in all applicable systems and collect biometric information. The CBSA will also notify US Customs and Border Protection of the direct-back,” she added.

“We are constantly evaluating the situation and considering next steps. Our government will continue to work with health authorities, border officials, provincial and territorial counterparts, municipalities, and our international partners to do what’s best for Canadians,” said Power.

Advocates want `immediate suspension’ of agreement

Oh and Chamagne said it’s too early to tell how the government will respond, but they would like to see the “immediate suspension” of the STCA.

Refugee advocates across Canada, including members of the Halifax Refugee Clinic and No One is Illegal – Halifax/K’jipuktuk, have long called for the federal government to withdraw from the STCA, stating it puts migrants at risk of “cruel and unusual” detention and possible deportation to countries where they could face “dangerous and persecutory conditions.”

Champagne said the STCA is especially concerning amid the COVID-19 pandemic because it may push migrants to enter Canada through irregular border crossings, putting their health and safety as well as that of others at risk.

“Especially during the pandemic, it’s important for people to be able to come documented, to have regular channels of migration and ability to make a refugee claim, ability to quarantine, ability to access public health and to not get sent back to detention,” she said.

Advocates call for better protections for asylum seekers

While Oh and Chamagne welcomed the Federal Court’s decision, they said more needs to be done in Canada to protect asylum seekers and others with precarious status in general.

Oh said asylum seekers and migrant workers are making valuable contributions in Nova Scotia during the pandemic by working in essential positions, including in agriculture and health care, yet they are being treated as “expendable and disposable, just like the treatment of migrants at the border,” pointing to asylum seekers recently seeing their shifts suddenly cancelled at Northwood.

Oh added there are “anti-refugee provisions” in Bill C-97 that are of concern, highlighting a ground that makes a person ineligible to make a refugee claim in Canada if they have done so in another country, which she said “essentially closes the door on so many asylum seekers.”

“We need to see an end to all these policies, including the STCA immediately, we need to see an end to the policies of turning our backs to migrants due to COVID responses, as well as striking down the changes that have been made in Bill C-97,” said Oh.

Since 2017, roughly 58,000 irregular border crossers have made asylum claims in Canada. About 14,500 of those claims have been accepted and 12,000 have been rejected, while 29,600 are pending a decision, according to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.

According to Power, 74 asylum seekers were directed back to the U.S. between March 21 and July 15, 71 of which were irregular asylum seekers. Five asylum seekers were allowed to proceed under the exemptions to the STCA.


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

asylum refugeesrefugee

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Zaudanawng “Jay-Dan” Maran in his Creston home. Hanging on the wall behind him is a logo of Kachin’s Manaw festival. Photo: Aaron Hemens
From Myanmar to Creston: The story of a refugee

In October 2007, Zaudanawng “Jay-Dan” Maran and his friends encountered a woman being sexually assaulted by two Myanmar soldiers.

Toronto Public Health nurse Lalaine Agarin makes preparations at Toronto’s mass vaccination clinic, Jan. 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
3 deaths, 234 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health over the weekend

One death connected to outbreak at Kamloops’ Royal Inland Hospital, where 20 patients and 28 staff have tested positive

Creston RCMP detachment. Photo: Aaron Hemens
Creston RCMP Report: 61 calls for assistance from Jan. 18 to 25

On Jan. 24, police were called to the Kingsgate port of entry after an American driver was suspected of being impaired after crashing his truck into a cement barrier.

The trial of Harry Richardson began Monday at the Nelson courthouse. File photo
Trial of man accused of shooting RCMP officer near Argenta in 2019 begins

Harry Richardson is facing five charges in a Nelson courtroom

Crews with Discovery Channel film as an Aggressive Towing driver moves a Grumman S2F Tracker aircraft around a 90-degree turn from its compound and onto the road on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. It was the “most difficult” part of the move for the airplane, one organizer said. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: Vintage military plane gets towed from Chilliwack to Greater Victoria

Grumman CP-121 Tracker’s eventual home the British Columbia Aviation Museum on Vancouver Island

Kamloops This Week.
48 COVID-19 cases and one death associated with outbreak at Kamloops hospital

One of the 20 patients infected has died, meanwhile 28 staff with COVID-19 are isolating at home

Rolling seven-day average of cases by B.C. health authority to Jan. 21. Fraser Health in purple, Vancouver Coastal red, Interior Health orange, Northern Health green and Vancouver Island blue. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
2nd COVID vaccine doses on hold as B.C. delivery delayed again

New COVID-19 cases slowing in Fraser Health region

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.’s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. Two more cases of the COVID-19 strain first identified in South Africa have been diagnosed in British Columbia, bringing the total to three as of Jan. 16.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. now has three cases of South African COVID-19 variant, six of U.K. strain

Both variants are thought to spread faster than earlier strains

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker in an undated photo from social media. The couple has been ticketed and charged under the Yukon’s <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> for breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek. (Facebook/Submitted)
Great Canadian Gaming CEO resigns after being accused of sneaking into Yukon for vaccine

Rod Baker and Ekaterina Baker were charged with two CEMA violations each

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Police discovered a makeshift nightclub in a Vancouver apartment on Jan. 23, 2021, and say it wasn’t the first time this month officers have been called to the unit over social gathering concerns. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
Doorman of makeshift ‘booze-can’ in Vancouver apartment fined; police look to court order

This marks the fourth complaint about social gatherings inside the apartment in January

A Kelowna couple welcomed their Nooner baby in December. (Flytographer)
Kelowna couple welcomes baby girl from Hotel Zed Nooner campaign

Nicole and Alex will now have 18 years of free stays at the hotel

Kyrell Sopotyk was drafted by the Kamloops Blazers in 2016 and played two seasons with the Western Hockey League club. (Photograph By ALLEN DOUGLAS/KTW)
Kamloops Blazer paralyzed in snowboarding accident sparks fundraiser for family

As of Jan. 24, more than $68,000 had been raised to help Kamloops Blazers’ forward Kyrell Sopotyk

Most Read