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Feb 22, 2017

The Safe Third Country Agreement Between Canada and the United States

Aris Daghighian

In the wake of President Trump’s Executive Orders on immigration last month, there has been much talk in Canada of the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA).

The STCA is an agreement between Canada and the United States regarding how refugee claimants are handled along our shared land border. The agreement came into effect in 2004 and requires that refugees must seek protection in the first country they arrive between Canada or the U.S., unless they qualify for an exception. Therefore, a refugee who first arrives in the U.S. must submit a claim for protection in the U.S. and cannot appear at a Canadian border to make a claim here. The reverse is also true for those who first arrive in Canada. 

The main exception is if the refugee has close family members in Canada or the U.S. and therefore is allowed to make a claim in their country of choice so as not to be separated from their family.

Notably, however, the agreement only applies to refugee claimants seeking entry to Canada from the U.S. at land border crossings by car, train, or on foot. It does not apply to those arriving by air. It also does not apply to those who are already in Canada and report to an immigration office to make a claim for protection.

It is for this reason that an increasing number of refugees have been crossing into Canada surreptitiously instead of reporting themselves first at a border crossing. Once they are in Canada, they can then voluntarily report to an immigration office to have their claim processed and adjudicated. A National Post article (link: http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/liberal-government-testing-the-limits-of-canadians-attitudes-to-refugees-poll) this week reports on the increased number of individuals making such dangerous crossings. This includes 452 asylum claims made at the border in Quebec in January alone, more than three times the year before. 

A number of organizations, including the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) and Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (CARL), have called for the suspension of the STCA on the grounds that the U.S. is no longer a safe-third country for refugees following President Trump’s executive orders. This is especially so, they argue, as it relates to refugees from the seven countries enumerated in the ban.

The Canadian government, however, has opted to take a more cautious approach until the effects of the ban are more fully known. One countervailing consideration cited by the Immigration Minister is the large influx of refugees who may make claims in Canada en masse should the STCA be suspended. This may place a large burden on IRCC’s processing abilities given existing backlogs. 

For more information on this issue,please contact us.

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