Rights Groups in Canadian Court Because 'The US Cannot Be Considered a Safe Country for Refugees'

A collective of rights groups is demanding Canada meet its legal obligations by recognizing that the United States is no longer a safe place to send refugees and scrapping an agreement between the two governments.

“The time for Canada to rely on the adequacy of the U.S. protection regime has come to a definitive end.”
—Justin Mohammed, Amnesty International The demand comes from the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR), Amnesty International (AI), and the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC), who, along with an individual litigant, are in a Canadian federal court this week to challenge the Safe Third Country Agreement.

“We are asking the court to look at the impact of the Safe Third Country Agreement on women, men, and children who can’t find safety in the U.S. and to assess the legality of Canada sending them back to detention and potential deportation to persecution,” CCR president Claire Roque said in a statement released last week. “The impacts are particularly severe for women, because of U.S. policies that close the door on women fleeing gender-based violence,” she said. “The conclusion is clear to us: the U.S. cannot be considered a safe country for refugees.”

The Safe Third Country Agreement was signed in 2002 and went into effect in 2004. As NPR previously reported,

The refugee advocates say that assumption is flawed, and that the lack of proper protections for refugees in the U.S has driven many to seek entry to Canada through irregular crossings, thereby dodging the agreement’s mandate that they be sent back.

The lawsuit was first launched in 2005 then resubmitted in 2017 after the groups said the Trump administration worsened the prospect of refugees’ rights being upheld. Specifically, the groups say sending refugees back to the U.S. violates their rights under Sections 7 and 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

According to a backgrounder on the case,

Refugees who are sent back to the U.S., the groups say, may be subjected to expedited removal process or may face roadblocks in making an asylum claim. They may miss the one-year deadline to make their asylum claim, perhaps because they were unable to access legal representation because they were detained under appalling conditions.

An excerpt from the groups’ legal argument points to some of the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies:

Alex Neve, Amnesty International Canada’s secretary attention, drew attention to the case in a recent Twitter thread in which he criticized “the indefensible and immoral fiction that the U.S. has an admirable refugee protection record. Nothing could be further from the despicable truth.”

The “cascading series of viciously, intentionally cruel (and unlawful) policies implemented over the past 2 1/2 years by the Trump administration,” Neve wrote, are cause to end the Safe Third Country Agreement.

The “incoming Justin Trudeau government,” Neve continued, “must call out U.S. refugee and border policy for what it is, disgraceful and illegal, and nothing that we will countenance or cooperate with in any way.”

“The time for Canada to rely on the adequacy of the U.S. protection regime has come to a definitive end,” added Justin Mohammed, Human Rights Law and Policy Campaigner at Amnesty International, in a statment.  “In the absence of action on the part of Canada’s elected representatives to acknowledge the serious shortcomings of the U.S. refugee protection system, we now turn to the courts to ensure that Canada’s domestic and international legal obligations are upheld.”  

The groups are set to hold a rally Monday outside the federal court in Toronto.

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