The U.S. Should No Longer Be Considered A 'Safe Third Country' For Asylum Seekers, Canadian Federal Court Hears

Immigration advocates have taken Canada's government to court to argue that the country's "Safe Third Country" agreement with the United States should no longer apply because, as it stands, the U.S. is no longer a "safe" place for asylum seekers.

The case, which is being heard at the Federal Court in Toronto this week, was launched by the Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnesty International and the Canadian Council of Churches.

"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," said CCR President Claire Roque in a statement published online.

"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."

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According to Janet Dench, the executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, Canada must decide whether it wants to "side with" those in the U.S. working for the rights of asylum seekers and refugees "or whether we want to side with the Trump administration."

"We want to make it really clear to the court what the realities are for people who are sent back to the U.S.," Dench told Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail.

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The Canadian government, however, has argued that the legal challenge should be dismissed, asserting that the U.S. is still a safe place for asylum seekers.

In a statement sent to Newsweek, Marie-Emmanuelle Cadieux, a spokesperson for Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair's office, said that while she could not comment on specific cases, the Canadian government "uses a robust framework to constantly monitor developments in the U.S. and the impact that domestic changes in policies and practices have on their overall protection system."

"In making a determination, we draw on a variety of sources including U.S. government reporting as well as views of the UNHCR and stakeholders," Cadieux said.

"The United States remains a country with an extensive system for processing applications that remain subject to administrative and legal checks and balances. Any-and-all changes are considered in the context of the asylum system as a whole. We continue to engage with the U.S. on ways to strengthen the Safe Third Country Agreement to the mutual benefit of both of our countries."

Trump Trudeau
President Donald Trump gives a thumbs up to the media as he is greeted by Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau during the G7 official welcome at Le Manoir Richelieu on day one of the G7 meeting on June 8, 2018 in Quebec City, Canada. Canada's federal court is hearing arguments for a legal challenge asserting that the U.S. is no longer a "Safe Third Country" for asylum seekers. Leon Neal/Getty

While the legal challenge is playing out before the federal court more than two years into the Trump administration's crackdown on immigration, it was originally launched in 2017.

It argues that the widespread detention of asylum seekers who are turned back from Canada makes the U.S. unsafe for those seeking refuge.

It also cites the separation of parents and children in U.S. immigration detention centers as another example of why the U.S. is not a "safe" country for asylum seekers.

"The time for Canada to rely on the adequacy of the U.S. protection regime has come to a definitive end," Human Rights Law and Policy Campaigner at Amnesty International Justin Mohammed said in a statement.

"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," Mohammed said.

While immigration advocates have sought to do away with the agreement, however, Canadian Conservatives have sought to strengthen it.

In the lead-up to Canada's recent federal election, which saw Prime Minister Justin Trudeau re-elected in a narrow vote, the Liberal leader's Conservative rival Andrew Scheer vowed to close a "loophole" in the Safe Third Country deal if elected.

Under that supposed loophole, the agreement only applies to asylum seekers who arrive in Canada at designated ports of entry.

Meanwhile, those who manage to reach Canadian soil outside of ports of entry cannot be turned back to the U.S. under the agreement.

Canadian Conservatives have demanded that the government apply the deal's rules to the entirety of the country's southern border, rather than just at designated ports of entry.

This article has been updated with a statement from Canadian Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair's office.

The U.S. Should No Longer Be Considered A 'Safe Third Country' For Asylum Seekers, Canadian Federal Court Hears | World