I am certain that, at this very moment, there is a battery of government lawyers working feverishly to meet a Feb. 1 deadline in the hopes of saving Canada’s Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States.
When Canada signed the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, it agreed it would give asylum to all those who reached its shores with a genuine fear of persecution on one of the enumerated grounds.
Since then, Canada has been true to its word and has taken its international obligations seriously, even when other signatory states did not. Canadians have taken pride in their refugee determination system even though it has been called overly generous by some and not generous enough by others. Canada has earned international recognition, and has even picked up a medal or two along the way, for its humanitarian work.
Then 9/11 struck.
Security trumped compassion, human rights, the rule of law, and … refugees.
Even though refugees had nothing to do with the events of 9/11, the U.S. wanted to stem the flow of refugees to Canada. As for those refugees who did reach the Canadian border, the U.S. wanted to adjudicate those claims itself.
In December 2002, our government said “fine” and signed the agreement, thereby declaring the United States “safe” for refugees. As of December 2004, refugees who sought to enter Canada at a land border would be turned back to U.S authorities. Their only option would be to make a claim in the U.S. where the incidence of detention is higher, the protection afforded is narrower, and the access to counsel is more limited.
Not surprisingly, the number of refugee claims in Canada has since plummeted.
The Canadian Council of Refugees, the Canadian Council of Churches, and Amnesty International produced experts in court to prove the U.S. is not, in fact, “safe” for refugee claimants and claimed Canada failed to monitor the situation there as it was legally required to do.
In November, our federal court agreed with these organizations and struck down the agreement.
On Thursday, Mr. Justice Phelan ruled his order only takes effect on Feb. 1, presumably, so our government could seek a temporary stay of execution pending appeal. Not surprisingly, on the same day, CIC posted a notice on its website stating, “The Government of Canada will appeal the Federal Court’s decision and will seek a stay of the Court’s decision.”
Let the fireworks begin!