PBI tour with Saltillo Migrant Shelter legal coordinator to discuss the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement

Published by Brent Patterson on

Peace Brigades International is hosting meetings in San Antonio, Austin and Washington for Javier Martinez Hernandez, the legal coordinator of the Saltillo Migrant Shelter.

Javier and Lena Weber, the PBI-Mexico advocacy coordinator, will then be in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal from March 14-18.

A key issue of their visit will be the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement.

The mandate letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Marco Mendicino, the present Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, calls on him to:

“Support the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness on irregular migration, including the new Border Enforcement Strategy and continued work with the United States to modernize the Safe Third Country Agreement.”

What is the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement?

The Canadian Press recently reported, “The deal largely bans people from seeking asylum at the Canada-U.S. border, on the grounds that both countries are safe and so people must seek refuge where they first arrive.”

Another recent Canadian Press articles notes, “In all of 2019, the RCMP stopped 16,503 people as they came into Canada from the U.S. using informal entry points [specifically to avoid being subject to the agreement so they can file an asylum claim].”

What is the Minister doing?

Sean Rehaag, the Director of the Centre for Refugee Studies, and Francisco Rico Martinez, the co-director of the FCJ Refugee Centre, have commented:

“Under the STCA, Canada continues to turn away Central American refugee claimants who present themselves at an official border crossing. Canada has also initiated discussions with the U.S. about expanding the STCA to cut off other routes into the country involving irregular border crossing.”

And the Canadian Press has reported that in 2019 Bill Blair, the Minister of Public Safety that Mendicino is mandated to work with, “is talking to lawmakers in the United States about closing a loophole in Canada’s border agreement with the U.S. — one seen as giving asylum-seekers reason to cross into Canada through fields and forests.”

Is the United States a safe country?

The basic assumption behind the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement (that was signed in 2002) is that the United States is a safe country.

Rehaag and Martinez have noted measures taken by the U.S. include: “forcibly separating asylum-seeking families, detaining children and adult asylum-seekers in inhumane conditions, militarizing the southern border, firing tear gas across the border at women and children asylum seekers, declaring that people facing gang violence or gender-based violence do not qualify for asylum, and, of course, building (or at least talking about building) a border wall.”

They add, “The refugee claim grant rates in 2018 for these countries were: El Salvador, 72 per cent; Guatemala, 64 per cent; and, Honduras, 57 per cent. So, when the Trump administration attacks this group of asylum seekers and denies them protection, they are attacking people who mostly meet Canada’s refugee definition.”

Should the Safe Third Country Agreement be suspended?

Jenny Kwan, the NDP Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Critic, has stated, “The only change that can be made to the STCA that respects the humanity of asylum seekers and allows Canada to live up to its domestic and international obligations is to suspend the agreement.”

And Green Party parliamentary leader Elizabeth May has commented, “Given the unpredictability and disarray of current immigration procedures in the U.S., the United States should no longer be designated as a ‘Safe Third Country’. People are fleeing the U.S. to come to Canada because they are no longer safe there and are in peril of being returned to countries where their lives could be threatened.”

Numerous other Canadian civil society organizations, including Amnesty International and the Canadian Association for Refugee Lawyers, have called for the agreement to be scrapped.

You can follow daily updates on this advocacy tour via PBI-Canada on Twitter and Facebook. The screen shot above is from this PBI video.


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