Jim Bronskill, Canadian Press, September 15, 2021
Refugee claimants and their advocates are asking the Supreme Court of Canada to review a decision that affirmed the constitutionality of a key pact between Ottawa and Washington on asylum seekers.
In a submission to the high court, they say the case raises “foundational questions of constitutional law” concerning access to remedies for violations of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Under the Safe Third Country Agreement, which took effect in 2004, Canada and the United States recognize each other as safe places to seek protection.
It means Canada can turn back potential refugees who arrive at land ports of entry along the Canada-U.S. border on the basis they must pursue their claims in the U.S., the country where they first arrived.
Canadian refugee advocates have vigorously fought the asylum agreement, arguing the U.S. is not always a safe country for people fleeing persecution.
Several refugee claimants took the case to court along 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 entry port from the U.S. and sought refugee protection.
They argued in court that by returning ineligible refugee claimants to the U.S., Canada exposes them to risks in the form of detention and other rights violations.
In her decision last year, Federal Court Justice Ann Marie McDonald concluded the Safe Third Country Agreement results in ineligible claimants being imprisoned by U.S. authorities.
Detention and the consequences flowing from it are “inconsistent with the spirit and objective” of the refugee agreement and amount to a violation of the rights guaranteed by Section 7 of the charter, she wrote.