HALIFAX/K’JIPUKTUK – On July 22, 2020, the Federal Court of Canada ruled the so-called Canada-US Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) to be unconstitutional and in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom. Civil society groups across Canada are hailing the ruling as an important victory, while highlighting that more work needs to be done to ensure that Canada respects refugee rights.
Under the STCA, the US has been considered a safe country for refugees. As such, most asylum-seekers arriving at Canada’s official ports of entry via the US have not been allowed to seek asylum in Canada. Under these restrictive rules, people have been forced to cross irregularly just to have their refugee claim heard, often risking their lives to do so. In 2017, a 57-year old Ghanian mother named Mavis Otuteye succumbed to hypothermia after having to cross the border irregularly in Manitoba.
The STCA case was brought forward by a number of litigants previously denied access to asylum in Canada under the STCA, with the support of civil society organizations. The litigants include a Syrian family of four, a Salvadoran woman who is survivor of gender-based violence, and a young Muslim Ethiopian woman named Nedira Mustefa. Mustefa was detained in solitary confinement in the US after her attempt to enter Canada. She described her time in solitary as “a terrifying, isolating and psychologically traumatic experience”.
In her ruling, Justice Ann Marie McDonald found that the STCA violates the section of the Charter guaranteeing “the right to life, liberty and security of the person”. She wrote that Canadian officials are complicit in facilitating deportation and imprisonment of rejected refugee claimants. The Federal Court of Canada is giving the Trudeau government six months to make changes before declaring the STCA invalid.
“We’re calling for the STCA to be immediately repealed. We cannot continue to put asylum-seekers in harm’s way one more day” said organizer Tina Oh of No One Is Illegal –Halifax/K’jipuktuk (NOII-Hfx).
Last May, thirteen local groups and organizations including NOII-Hfx issued an open letter to Halifax Member of Parliament Andy Fillmore, calling on the Trudeau government to scrap the STCA in the midst of their efforts to expand the agreement. Moreover, groups also urged the Trudeau government to withdraw amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Act in Bill C-97, which today are in effect and continues to restrict refugee rights in Canada. In October, in the midst of last year’s federal elections, NOII-Hfx also delivered a mailbox to Fillmore filled with letters from community members calling for an end to both immigrant detention and the Canada-US Safe Third Country Agreement.
Most recently, the Trudeau government has also come under fire for border restrictions in place since March 21, 2020, which have turned away most asylum-seekers crossing irregularly at the Canada-US border. “The Trudeau government has used the guise of COVID-19 to enact anti-refugee measures, failing to fulfil its international obligations to refugees,” said NOII-Hfx organizer Tina Oh.
“Whether it’s the STCA, anti-refugee measures buried in their 392-page omnibus budget bill last year (C-97), or current border restrictions, the Trudeau government continues to put refugees and migrants in life threatening situations. We need to see immediate action from the Trudeau government to end all these harmful policies, immediately. Lives depend on it,” said NOII-Hfx organizer Stacey Gomez. She added: “While this STCA ruling is a step in the right direction, we need to continue to hold their feet to the fire to ensure that refugee rights are respected.”
NOII continues to advocate for the freedom to move, freedom to stay and freedom to return. Refugees are welcome here!
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Tina Oh , No One is Illegal – Halifax/K’jipuktuk, NOII.Hfx@gmail.com