Trudeau government appeals Federal Court ruling on Canada-U.S. Refugee pact

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OTTAWA – Ottawa is appealing a court ruling that overturned a key Canada-U.S. Refugee agreement, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said on Friday. The Federal Court of Canada ruled last month that elements of the law underlying the pact violated the constitutional guarantee of life, liberty and security.

The declaration of invalidity was suspended for six months, leaving the law in force until mid-January.

Under the Safe Third Country Agreement, which came into effect in 2004, Canada and the United States recognize each other as safe places where potential refugees can seek protection.

This means that Canada can return asylum seekers who arrive at land ports of entry along the Canada-U.S. Border on the grounds that they must continue their claims in the United States, the country where they first arrived. .

Potential refugees arriving from the United States by air, sea, or between land ports may, however, have their applications referred to Canadian authorities. The exception has spurred the arrival of thousands of people in Canada through unofficial border crossings – including one between New York State and Quebec – in recent years.

In a statement Friday, Blair said there were factual and legal errors in some of the Federal Court’s key findings.

“There are important legal principles to be determined in this case, and it is the responsibility of the Government of Canada to appeal to ensure the clarity of the legal framework governing the right to asylum,” he said.

Canadian refugee advocates have strongly opposed the deal, arguing that the United States is not always a safe country for people fleeing persecution.

Several asylum seekers have taken the case to court with the Canadian Council for Refugees, the Canadian Council of Churches and Amnesty International, who participated in the proceedings as public interest parties.

In each case, the applicants, who are citizens of El Salvador, Ethiopia and Syria, arrived at a Canadian land port of entry from the United States and claimed asylum.

They argued in court that by returning ineligible asylum seekers to the United States, Canada puts them at risk in the form of detention and other violations of their rights.

In her decision, Federal Court Judge Ann Marie McDonald found that the Safe Third Country Agreement results in the imprisonment of ineligible claimants by US authorities.

The detention and its consequences are “incompatible with the spirit and purpose” of the refugee agreement and violate the rights guaranteed by section 7 of the Charter, she wrote.

“The evidence clearly shows that those who are returned to the United States by Canadian officials are detained as a punishment.

As soon as the decision was released, public interest parties who were involved in the case quickly called on the federal government not to appeal the court’s decision and to stop returning people to the United States under of the agreement.

In his statement, Blair said the deal with the United States “remains a global vehicle” for maintaining a compassionate, fair and orderly refugee protection system, based on the principle that people should seek asylum in the first safe country they arrive in.

Canada “continues to actively engage” with Washington on the Compact for Refugees, ensuring that the agreement reflects Canada’s commitment to its international obligations, “while continuously cooperating on how we manage our border. common, ”he added.

NDP immigration spokeswoman Jenny Kwan said on Friday the appeal means the Liberals would rather let asylum seekers “suffer by Donald Trump’s rules rather than defend the rights of the man and Canadian values ​​”.

“This is not only a violation of fundamental human rights enshrined in the charter, it is a violation of international law and puts the lives of asylum seekers in danger. It is a heartless and shameful act. It’s not Canadian, ”Kwan said in a statement.

Conservative immigration critic Peter Kent said on Friday his party called on the government to close “long-standing loopholes” in the Safe Third Country Agreement.

“While we are glad the government has decided to appeal this decision, Canadians’ confidence in the immigration system has been shattered by years of Justin Trudeau’s failure to address these concerns and by his inability to address these concerns. to restore integrity and compassion to the immigration process, ”Kent said in a statement.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on August 21, 2020.

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