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Canada court upholds pact on returning asylum seekers to US

Canada’s Supreme Court upheld an immigration rule that allows authorities to bar asylum seekers from entering the country from the U.S.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers greet asylum seekers as they arrive at the Roxham Road border crossing in Champlain, New York, on March 25, 2023
Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers greet asylum seekers as they arrive at the Roxham Road border crossing in Champlain, New York, on March 25, 2023 - Copyright AFP/File Lars Hagberg
Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers greet asylum seekers as they arrive at the Roxham Road border crossing in Champlain, New York, on March 25, 2023 - Copyright AFP/File Lars Hagberg

Canada’s Supreme Court on Friday upheld an immigration agreement that allows authorities to bar asylum seekers from entering the country from the United States.

The Safe Third Country Agreement, which came into effect in 2004, says that asylum seekers must make their application in the first safe country in which they arrived once they left their country of origin.

The judges unanimously ruled that the accord did “not infringe refugee claimants’ rights to liberty and security.”

In July 2020, a Federal Court judge invalidated the agreement, ruling that it violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms because those returned to the US faced poor detention conditions.

Advocacy groups challenged the constitutionality of the agreement on behalf of claimants, including an Ethiopian woman who was held in solitary confinement for a week in a US detention center after being removed by Canadian authorities.

Even if asylum seekers “face real and not speculative risks of refoulement from the United States, the Canadian legislative scheme provides safety valves that guard against such risks,” Judge Nicholas Kasirer found in Friday’s decision.

However, the Federal Court should re-examine the policy for women asylum seekers who “fear persecution on the basis of their gender,” the Supreme Court said.

“For many refugees, in particular those who identify as women and are from the LGBTQIA+ communities, the US is not a safe country,” the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) said.

They face risk of being placed in “arbitrary detention and solitary confinement in the US, and then being returned to a country where they face persecution, torture or death.”

Amnesty International Canada called on Ottawa to withdraw from the agreement as soon as possible.

“The Safe Third Country Agreement does push refugees, particularly those fleeing gender-based persecution, at serious risk of refoulement,” Secretary General Ketty Nivyabandi said at a press briefing.

Since March, migrants can be turned back across the entire border between the two countries.

Previously, the agreement did not apply to asylum seekers arriving in Canada outside official ports of entry such as Roxham Road, south of Montreal.

In 2022, 40,000 migrants arrived from the United States via this crossing.

AFP
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