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

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a ‘person of interest’ in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
RCMP identify ‘person of interest’ in Kootenay National Park suspicious death

Police are looking for Philip Toner, who was known to a woman found dead near Radium last week

The southern mountain caribou, an iconic species for the Splatsin First Nation, is threatened with extinction, much to the dismay of the First Nation. (Province of B.C. photo)
Splatsin First Nation concerned over dwindling caribou herd

Southern mountain caribou at risk of extinction, will struggle to recover without habitat protection and restoration action - report

FILE - In this April 19, 2021, file photo, Keidy Ventura, 17, receives her first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in West New York, N.J. States across the country are dramatically scaling back their COVID-19 vaccine orders as interest in the shots wanes, putting the goal of herd immunity further out of reach. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
5 more deaths, 131 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health over the weekend

Those 18-years and older in high-transmission neighbourhoods can register for the vaccine

Five-year-old Bayne Krause poses for a photo with his mom Marianne. Bayne’s shirt reads, ‘I have Cystic Fibrosis. Help keep me healthy, please social distance.’ Photo: Laurie Tritschler
West Kootenay mom promotes awareness of cystic fibrosis

Marianne Krause wants people to know what it’s like for her five-year-old son to live with CF

A rolled-over semi along Highway 95. The RCMP have responded to nine collisions in the last month. (Brain Duchovnay photo)
Golden/Field RCMP recap last two months

The RCMP responded to 463 calls to service over the last two months

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko (35) makes a save on Winnipeg Jets’ Nate Thompson (11) during second period NHL action in Winnipeg, Monday, May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
Vancouver Canucks see NHL playoff hopes dashed despite 3-1 win over Winnipeg

Montreal Canadiens earn final North Division post-season spot

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
UPDATE: Winfield road open following police, coroner investigation

Pelmewash Parkway closure near Highway 97 connection

Kelowna resident Sally Wallick helped rescue a kayaker in distress a week and a half ago. (Sally Wallick/Contributed)
VIDEO: Kelowna woman rescues capsized kayaker in Okanagan Lake

Sally Wallick is asking people to be prepared for the cold water and unpredictable winds

The B.C. legislature went from 85 seats to 87 before the 2017 election, causing a reorganization with curved rows and new desks squeezed in at the back. The next electoral boundary review could see another six seats added. (Black Press files)
B.C. election law could add six seats, remove rural protection

North, Kootenays could lose seats as cities gain more

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the shooting of an Indigenous woman in the Ucluelet First Nation community of Hitacu. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation wants ‘massive change’ after its 3rd police shooting in less than a year

Nuu-chah-nulth woman recovering from gunshot wounds in weekend incident near Ucluelet

RCMP (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
High-risk takedown on Highway 1 following Shuswap shooting

Upon further investigation, the vehicle and its occupants were not associated with the shooting

Nurse Gurinder Rai, left, administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Maria Yule at a Fraser Health drive-thru vaccination site, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. The site is open for vaccinations 11 hours per day to those who have pre-booked an appointment. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID vaccine bookings to open for adults 40+, or 18+ in hotspots, across B.C.

Only people who have registered will get their alert to book

Most Read