Federal Court of Appeal must uphold decision to strike down Safe Third Country Agreement

On 23 and 24 February, the Federal Court of Appeal will hear the Canadian government’s appeal of a decision finding that the Canada-US Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) is unconstitutional. Amnesty International (AI), the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR), and The Canadian Council of Churches (CCC) will once again join individual refugee claimants as their lawyers reiterate to the court that the STCA violates the right to life, liberty, and security of the person, as well as equality rights guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“Many refugee claimants are not safe in the US, and do not benefit from the same protection that they would receive in Canada,” said Ketty Nivyabandi, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada. “In July 2020, the Federal Court ruled that sending refugee claimants back to the US, where they face detention and mistreatment, shocks the conscience of Canadians, and that being detained in the US exposes these refugee claimants to increased risks of return to persecution. We look forward to the Federal Court of Appeal reaffirming the strong legal conclusion drawn from the clear and extensive evidence that was before the Federal Court.”

Refugee protection in the US drastically deteriorated under the Trump administration, but many laws and policies that violate refugee rights preexisted his administration, and will not be easily reversed by the new Biden administration. Indeed, AI, the CCR and the CCC have been challenging the STCA since before it was signed and won a previous Federal Court ruling finding the US unsafe for refugees in 2007 (though this decision was subsequently overturned on appeal, based on a technicality). Under the Biden administration, continuing concerns include:

  • Arbitrary detention of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers continues in the US’s more than 200 immigration detention facilities.
  • Arbitrary detention is routinely used by US authorities to undermine access to legal counsel and pressure asylum seekers into giving up their claim, thereby forcing them back to serious human rights violations in their country of origin.
  • White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki recently declared: “Now is not the time to come…the vast majority of people will be turned away. Asylum processes at the border will not occur immediately; it will take time to implement.”

“Every day that the Agreement remains in force, people are at risk of being sent back to detention and potential deportation to persecution,” said Dorota Blumczynska, CCR President. “The US has never been safe for all refugees, and the fact that President Biden is in the White House does not change that. Women are particularly affected, because of US policies that close the door on women fleeing gender-based violence.” At the Federal Court, the organizations submitted extensive evidence that the US system fails in many ways to protect refugees, and that people turned back from Canada under the STCA are at risk of being sent in turn by the US to face persecution, torture and even death in their home countries.

“Hospitality is a core value of Canadians and they expect people who are seeking protection in Canada to be received, welcomed, heard and treated with respect, not returned to face detention,” said Pastor Peter Noteboom, General Secretary of The Canadian Council of Churches.

Under the Safe Third Country Agreement, most refugee claimants who arrive at an official border post seeking protection in Canada are denied entry and turned back to the US. Because the agreement only applies at official border crossings, many refugees have been forced to cross the border in between ports of entry, sometimes in perilous conditions. Withdrawing from the Agreement would not only ensure that Canada meets its legal obligations, but would also allow people to present themselves in an orderly way at ports of entry, ending the need for irregular crossings.

Media contacts:

Lucy Scholey, Media Relations, Amnesty International Canada (English branch), 613-853-2142, lscholey@amnesty.ca

Andréa Viens, Communications Coordinator, Canadian Council for Refugees,  media@ccrweb.ca

Dr. Nicole Roccas, Communications Coordinator, The Canadian Council of Churches, 416-972-9494, communications@councilofchurches.com

For more information

Testimony of STCA Refugee Claimants: https://www.amnesty.ca/blog/refugee-claimants-speak-testimonies-stca

Decision of the Federal Court: https://decisions.fct-cf.gc.ca/fc-cf/decisions/en/item/482757/index.do

Backgrounder: https://ccrweb.ca/en/why-US-not-safe-challenging-STCA