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Canada must respond to an unsafe America

International human rights lawyer David Matas on why Canada must suspend the Safe Third Country refugee agreement with the U.S.


 
Security officers watch through binoculars from the roof of the U.S. consulate in Toronto as demonstrators march to protest the U.S. Muslim immigration ban on Saturday Feb. 4, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Security officers watch through binoculars from the roof of the U.S. consulate in Toronto as demonstrators march to protest the U.S. Muslim immigration ban on Saturday Feb. 4, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Canada should suspend its Safe Third Country agreement with the U.S. That agreement allocates refugee determination of every refugee claim to either the U.S. or Canada. Its basic principle is that a claim has to be made in the country of first arrival.

According to the agreement, a refugee claimant who passes through the U.S. to Canada can be returned to the U.S. for the determination of the claim, and the U.S. must accept that person. Canada has enacted that agreement into law and systematically returns asylum seekers coming from the U.S. back to the U.S. The legislation is tied to the existence of the agreement. If the agreement were suspended, the legislation about return to the U.S. would be automatically suspended also.

There are some exceptions to the agreement. One is that it applies only to those who appear at ports of entry, and not those who cross the border illegally and show up inland. The arrival and behaviour of Donald Trump as President of the United States has led to a flare up of these illegal crossings, even in the dead of winter, even in the coldest parts of the country.

While this exception is a safety valve, we should not be encouraging illegal crossings. It is hazardous for the refugees. It is also an arbitrary form of self-selection, favouring single young males, and disadvantaging in particular the elderly and women with young children.

The Safe Third Country Agreement no longer lives up to its name. Trump has made the U.S. unsafe for asylum seekers.

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The bigotry of Donald Trump is not just the venting of one person. The publicity and respectability his group slanders has made bigotry in the U.S. viral. And its most vulnerable victims are those with the least amount of community support and connections, asylum seekers.

Refugee protection is both formal and informal. If refugees have the legal possibility of receiving protection but in fact are treated so miserably that it is impossible for them to remain where they are, then there is denial of protection in fact. That is the pit into which the Trump presidency has led the U.S.

Prior to the Trump presidency, there had already been problems with the Safe Third Country Agreement. Asylum seekers in the U.S. are frequently detained, far from major centres and legal and family support. On arrival, U.S. asylum seekers are typically required to pass a threshold test for their claims imposed by poorly trained and informed border officials. Reports are common that asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexican border are denied access to the asylum claims system of the U.S. And so on.

The Government of Canada, for better or worse, was prepared to tolerate these prior problems. However, the invective and hostility towards refugees of the Trump presidency have pushed the agreement over the edge.  Whether the agreement made sense before, it no longer makes sense now.

The Trump presidency is cruel. Cruelty is regrettable in any context. But cruelty to the most vulnerable is particularly disheartening. Refugees, before they arrive in the US, had been, many of them, victims of the worst violations known to humanity. To greet them, as Trump has done and set an example for others to follow, with xenophobia, derision and suspicion in the place where they have sought protection is grotesque in its meanness. American cruelty needs to be countered with Canadian compassion.

Trump excuses his bigotry as a defence against Islamic terrorism. Yet, the first victims of Islamic terrorism have been Muslims, victimized because they opposed the terrorists. Trump’s campaign against terrorism consists of attacking his best allies in the anti-terrorist struggle, people within the Islamic community combatting terrorism. Canada should have the common sense to join common cause with the real allies in the struggle against terrorism and offer them the welcome the U.S. now refuses.

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The U.S. is a big country. When it has a problem, it has a big problem. Canada can not on its own solve all the problems the ascendency of Donald Trump presents. But it can do this much, suspend the Safe Third Country agreement.

The agreement has an article allowing for suspension without the necessity of giving reasons, simply on notice.  Canada does not have to terminate the agreement entirely. All it has to do is just wait out the Trump presidency.

The Safe Third Country was a symbol of solidarity with U.S. refugee policy. Now that the Trump administration has attacked refugees, Canada should walk away from the symbol.

Emma Lazarus, in lines from a poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, wrote: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”  The time regrettably has come for Canada to say that to the U.S.  Give us your asylum seekers yearning to breathe free.

David Matas is an international human rights and refugee lawyer based in Winnipeg. He is a former president of the Canadian Council for Refugees.


 

Canada must respond to an unsafe America

  1. There is a meme going around suggesting that Mexico builds a wall, Canada builds a wall……and we all chip in for a lid.

    Works for me.

  2. No more middle eastern refugees in Canada, No more.

    We will be spending billions of tax payer $ to keep them here for what? So they can drive trucks into crowds? Commit jihad here? They will all live in ghetto homes, and then Canada will be just like Germany, France and England.

    How about we care more about our homeless and veterans.
    PM Justin Truduh is a shmuck and the elections can’t come soon enough.

    • I totally agree. Canadian seniors on a fixed income, like myself, worked to make Canada a 1st class country. We paid a lot of taxes along the way. Now I have to pay for my own medical premiums, dental bills, pharmaceuticals, home taxes, car insurance, etc etc etc … and the refugees get all this for free. I have no problem with immigrants from any country coming to Canada, as long as they pay their own way, like my grandparents did. Stop this debt producing policy and provide for those of us who made Canada 1st class 1st. A national dental, and pharmaceutical for Canadians is far more responsible than spending all our taxes on refugees. All this is so Trudeau can make a name for himself with the UN. He has never worried about paying his bills like the rest of us. Please get him out of his position of authority before he ruins Canada financially for generations to come.

  3. So according to the writer, we should be forced to accept EVERYONE who wants to be in Canada unrestricted entry. … and yes, it IS unrestricted, refugee determinations take several years, any applications eventually deemed bogus become meaningless, since those particular applicants have already disappeared never to be found again … until they choose to be.

    No thanks, let’s make certain we know exactly who will be permitted to enter and remain. Being held in custody while the application is vetted provides safety to both the applicant AND to existing Canadians.

    • About 15 years ago I heard there were estimated tens of thousands, possibly 40,000, illegal aliens living in Canada and whose whereabouts were unknown to the government. Now that the Liberal government has lifted the Visa requirement for Mexico, there will be many more slipping into Canada. Yes, I am in favour of Trump building the wall. This will benefit Canada as well as the U.S. Hopefully it will cut down significantly the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cocaine coming into the U.S. from central and south America every day. Right now up to 20,000 people a year are being killed in Mexico, mainly in the drug wars. This is a civil war. Completely out of control.

      • Are you aware that the majority of Mexicans and drugs entering the US do so by plane? Last time I looked, planes fly over walls and aren’t restrained by them.

  4. My personal commitment is to avoid traveling to the USA and I invite all Canadians to do the same.

    • Hi Kram. I’m not following your line of thinking — what exactly will avoid travelling to the USA do? Even the writer of this article received a graduate degree from the USA.

  5. Seems like every other article on Macleans is promoting open borders. I guess you guys love that Soros money eh. I’m sure David Matas, like all the others calling for increased Islamic immigration, lives in the most exclusive, whitest suburb he could afford.

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