A Canadian court on Wednesday rejected the country’s asylum pact with the United States, ruling that the 2004 accord was invalid because Washington violates the rights of refugees and asylum seekers.
Under the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA), people who want to seek refuge in Canada and present at an official border crossing between Canada and the United States are returned to the United States and must first seek refuge there.
Amnesty International, the Canadian Council for Refugees and the Canadian Council of Churches challenged the pact last year, saying the United States is not considered a “safe” country under President Donald Trump. They cited the widespread detention of refouled asylum seekers from Canada as well as the separation of migrant parents from their children by the Trump administration.
In Wednesday’s ruling, Federal Court Judge Ann Marie McDonald said the STCA violated Canada’s constitutional guarantees of life, liberty and security, due to the risk of detention to which returning asylum seekers are faced in the United States.
She cited the “compelling” case of a Muslim immigrant from Ethiopia named Nedira Mustefa, who was held in solitary confinement for a week in a US detention center after being returned by Canadian authorities.
Mustefa described his time in solitary confinement in the United States as “a terrifying, isolating and psychologically traumatic experience,” according to the court ruling.
“Canada cannot turn a blind eye to the consequences that struck Ms. Mustefa in her efforts to join the STCA,” the judge wrote in her decision. “The evidence clearly shows that those who are returned to the United States by Canadian officials are detained as a punishment. ”
McDonald’s suspended its decision for six months to give Parliament a chance to respond.
“No one deserves to be mistreated”
The Canadian government said it is currently reviewing the decision, with Mary-Liz Power, a spokeswoman for Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, noting that the STCA “remains in effect” until January 2021.
The decision can be appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court if necessary.
There was no immediate comment from the US Department of Homeland Security and State.
Mustefa, among those on whose behalf the court challenge was launched, told Reuters news agency she was relieved.
“At the end of the day, we are all humans,” she said. “No one deserves to be mistreated in this way. “
Huge win for @downtownlegal customers! Federal Court ruled that the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States violates section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Read the full decision here 👉https: //t.co/SvbxX1twWh
– Downtown Legal Services (@downtownlegal) 22 juillet 2020
All three groups that filed the lawsuit said they welcomed the decision and urged the Government of Canada not to appeal. The groups also urged Canada to immediately stop returning asylum seekers to the United States.
“The Safe Third Country Agreement has been the source of serious human rights violations for many years, unequivocally confirmed in this decision,” said Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada.
“It cannot be allowed to continue one more day. ”
Since Trump came to power in 2017, more than 50,000 people have crossed the Canada-U.S. Border to apply for asylum. Many of them came to the United States from Syria, Congo, Haiti and elsewhere and crossed Canada on their way to upstate New York, then to Roxham Road in the town of Champlain, a secondary road that ends at the border.
Under special rules put in place by the United States and Canada to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, most of those who cross illegally in both directions are now immediately returned to the other country.
The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers has said Canada should reconsider the ruling, given Wednesday’s ruling, and also revoke a 2019 rule that makes people ineligible for Canadian asylum if they have. already applied for asylum in the United States.