U.S. border officers at the Peace Arch crossing arrested two men on California warrants this week. (File photo)

U.S. border officers at the Peace Arch crossing arrested two men on California warrants this week. (File photo)

Ottawa predicts system delays, backlogs unless court extends life of refugee pact

Canada and the United States recognize each other as safe places to seek protection

The Trudeau government says there will be upheaval at the Canada-U. S. border early next year if a refugee pact between the two countries is allowed to expire.

Federal lawyers are asking the Federal Court of Appeal to stay a July ruling that struck down the Safe Third Country Agreement but left it in effect until mid-January.

Under the refugee 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 border on the basis they must pursue their claims in the U.S., the country where they first arrived.

Ottawa is appealing the Federal Court ruling that nixed the agreement, and will argue in a hearing this morning that the Appeal Court should pause the decision until the full challenge is resolved.

Refugee claimants and their advocates say the federal application for a stay must be rejected, given that a judge found the bilateral agreement violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In a submission to the Court of Appeal, federal lawyers say the absence of the agreement would serve as “a pull factor” attracting people to make a claim for protection in Canada.

“This will impact all types of port of entry operations and result in significant delays for persons making refugee claims at the land port of entry,” the government submission states.

Suspension of the agreement could also “create negative ripple effects and backlogs” in the overall immigration and refugee system, the government argues.

“This could undermine the ability of Canada’s refugee protection system to determine claims and offer protection in a timely manner to those who have not had the benefit of accessing an asylum process in another safe country.”

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, 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.

“The evidence clearly demonstrates that those returned to the U.S. by Canadian officials are detained as a penalty.”

In their submission to the Court of Appeal, the refugees and their advocates say the government has failed to show that it would suffer irreparable harm if the agreement expires in January.

They contend the government’s assertion that the Canadian refugee system would be overwhelmed is based on speculation and ignores the reality that all travel, and therefore refugee claim numbers, are dramatically down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

federal government

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Statue of Lady Justice at B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Judge finds Surrey RCMP breached two robbery suspects’ Charter rights

This was in connection with the robbery of the Ritecare Pharmacy in Surrey on Oct. 10, 2017

This year’s White Rock RCMP children’s clothing drive was the best yet, organizers say. (Contributed photo)
White Rock RCMP children’s clothing drive ‘best ever’

Month-long annual event wrapped up Dec. 1

Unlike Vancouver, White Rock doesn't have the power to remove landlord restrictions on renting to pet owners, the city's Housing Advisory Committee heard Nov. 25. (CNW Group/Canadian Animal Health Institute)
No relief expected for renters with pets in White Rock

Little chance of removing landlord restrictions, housing committee told

Art rendering of Surrey’s Legion Veterans Village. (Submitted photo)
Surrey’s Legion Veteran Village to get 91 affordable housing units, B.C. government says

Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Housing David Eby made the announcement Wednesday

Representatives from the Delta Firefighters’ Charitable Society and local retailers present cheques for $5,000 to Priscilla Belonio from WINGS - Azure Place and Wayne Connorton from the South Delta Starfish Pack program, proceeds from the society’s “We’re in this Together” t-shirt campaign. (Dave Mason/contributed photo)
Delta firefighters t-shirt campaign raises over $11,000

Funds donated to Azure Place transition house, South Delta Starfish Pack program

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation at the legislature, Nov. 30, 2020. (B.C. government)
Hockey team brought COVID-19 back from Alberta, B.C. doctor says

Dr. Bonnie Henry pleads for out-of-province travel to stop

B.C. Premier John Horgan on a conference call with religious leaders from his B.C. legislature office, Nov. 18, 2020, informing them in-person church services are off until further notice. (B.C. government)
B.C. tourism relief coming soon, Premier John Horgan says

Industry leaders to report on their urgent needs next week

An RCMP cruiser looks on as a military search and rescue helicopter winds down near Bridesville, B.C. Tuesday, Dec. 1. Photo courtesy of RCMP Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey
B.C. Mountie, suspect airlifted by Canadian Armed Forces from ravine after foot chase

Military aircraft were dispatched from Comox, B.C., say RCMP

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Photo by Dale Klippenstein
Suspect tries to thwart police in Abbotsford with false 911 call about men with guns

Man twice sped away from officers and then tried to throw them off his trail

An 18-year old male southern resident killer whale, J34, is stranded near Sechelt in 2016. A postmortem examination suggests he died from trauma consistent with a vessel strike. (Photo supplied by Paul Cottrell, Fisheries and Oceans Canada)
“We can do better” — humans the leading cause of orca deaths: study

B.C. research reveals multitude of human and environmental threats affecting killer whales

A logo for Netflix on a remote control is seen in Portland, Ore.,Aug. 13, 2020. Experts in taxation and media say a plan announced Monday by the government will ultimately add to the cost of digital services and goods sold by foreign companies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jenny Kane
‘Netflix tax’ for digital media likely to raise prices for consumers, experts say

The government says Canadian companies already collect those taxes when they make digital sales

BIG SALMON ranch in Washington State. (Center for Whale Research handout)
Non-profit buys Chinook ranch in hopes of increasing feed for southern resident killer whales

The ranch, which borders both sides of Washington State’s Elwha River, is a hotspot for chinook salmon

Most Read