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

Jacob Koomen takes his bike out for a spin near his home in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Campbell Riverite to cycle length of Island to raise funds for cancer research

Long distance rides are no big deal for 73-year-old cyclist

Comox Strathcona Waste Management expects to go to tender this summer for the regional organics compost facility in Campbell River. File photo/Black Press
Comox Strathcona compost site should go to tender this summer

The regional organics facility is on target to open for the fall of 2022

WestJet in flight. Black Press file photo
Two COVID exposures on WestJet flight into Comox

The BC Centre for Disease Control has posted advisories for two separate… Continue reading

Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Busy day for Campbell River fire crews

Three incidents in rapid succession keep crews on their toes

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a ‘person of interest’ in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
RCMP identify ‘person of interest’ in Kootenay National Park suspicious death

Police are looking for Philip Toner, who was known to a woman found dead near Radium last week

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko (35) makes a save on Winnipeg Jets’ Nate Thompson (11) during second period NHL action in Winnipeg, Monday, May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
Vancouver Canucks see NHL playoff hopes dashed despite 3-1 win over Winnipeg

Montreal Canadiens earn final North Division post-season spot

The B.C. legislature went from 85 seats to 87 before the 2017 election, causing a reorganization with curved rows and new desks squeezed in at the back. The next electoral boundary review could see another six seats added. (Black Press files)
B.C. election law could add six seats, remove rural protection

North, Kootenays could lose seats as cities gain more

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the shooting of an Indigenous woman in the Ucluelet First Nation community of Hitacu. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation wants ‘massive change’ after its 3rd police shooting in less than a year

Nuu-chah-nulth woman recovering from gunshot wounds in weekend incident near Ucluelet

Nurse Gurinder Rai, left, administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Maria Yule at a Fraser Health drive-thru vaccination site, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. The site is open for vaccinations 11 hours per day to those who have pre-booked an appointment. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID vaccine bookings to open for adults 40+, or 18+ in hotspots, across B.C.

Only people who have registered will get their alert to book

Dr. Victoria Lee, CEO of Fraser Health, hosts an update on efforts to contain B.C.’s COVID-19 transmission in Surrey and the Fraser Valley and protect hospitals in the Lower Mainland, May 6, 2021. (B.C. government video)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate slowing, 20 more people die

Deaths include two people in their 40s, two in their 50s

Most Read