PBI-Canada welcomes ruling on Safe Third Country Agreement, but much remains to be done to uphold the human rights of migrants
In practical terms, the Canada-US Safe Third Country Agreement has meant, for example, that a person from Mexico seeking asylum at a Canadian checkpoint on the US border would be denied entry because the US is deemed a safe third country.
On July 22, Federal Court Justice Ann Marie McDonald ruled that the Safe Third Country infringes on the section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that guarantees “the right to life, liberty and security of the person”.
The ruling does not come into effect until January 22, 2021.
For asylum seekers crossing from Mexico into the US, they face both the obstacle of the 15,000 Mexican national guard soldiers deployed on that border and the 3,500 kilometres they would need to traverse to get to a Canadian border crossing.
It is also a reality that reaching the Canadian border does not mean freedom.
In recent years, the largest number of Mexican refugee applicants in Canada have sought asylum after flying to the Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport. Overall, three-quarters of the Mexican refugee claims heard by the Refugee Board in 2017 were either rejected, abandoned or withdrawn.
And between 2006 and 2014, 87,317 migrants were jailed in Canada without charge. The Canada Border Services Agency has also stated that there were 6,609 people detained in holding centres in 2017-18, up from 4,248 a year earlier.
We also lament that prior to the Federal Court ruling that the Canadian government had been in the process of “modernizing” (expanding) the Safe Third Country Agreement.
Those seeking to escape the violence in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador also face the obstacles of other safe third country agreements.
The US has safe third country agreements with these countries meaning they would be turned back or returned at the southern border of the US.
If it had not been for the pandemic, Peace Brigades International-Canada would have hosted Javier Martinez Hernandez, the legal coordinator of the Saltillo Migrant Shelter, at meetings in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal from March 14-18 to discuss a range of migrant rights issues including the Safe Third Country Agreement.
This migrant shelter, located in the city of Saltillo in the Mexican state of Coahuila, is not far from the border of Texas.
PBI-Mexico has noted: “The Saltillo Migrant Shelter offers daily humanitarian assistance — including clothes, medicines, food, rest, and medical and psychological care — to hundreds of migrants crossing Mexico to reach the United States.”
PBI-Mexico has further highlighted: “[The shelter] also defends migrants’ rights through the documentation of cases of kidnapping, extortion, abuses and violations that they suffer during their journey through Mexico. The organization lodges complaints about violations after gathering migrants’ testimonies.”
In May 2017, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) noted: “68.3 percent of the migrant and refugee populations entering Mexico reported being victims of violence during their transit toward the United States [and] nearly one-third of the women surveyed had been sexually abused during their journey.”
That report explained: “MSF patients reported that the perpetrators of violence included members of gangs and other criminal organizations, as well as members of the Mexican security forces responsible for their protection.”
While PBI-Canada welcomes the Federal Court ruling and urges the Canadian government not to appeal it, we also note that much more needs to be done to address the conditions that lead to migration and to uphold the human rights of migrants.