A group of Haitians wait to cross the U.S.-Canada border into Quebec from New York. Catholic News Service

Supreme Court upholds Safe Third Country Agreement

  • June 16, 2023

The Supreme Court of Canada has unanimously upheld the Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the United States.

In a ruling announced today, the court found that the migrant agreement between the two nations does not violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The agreement, signed in 2004, recognizes both Canada and the United States as “safe” countries for migrants and states that refugee claimants must claim asylum in the first nation that they arrive in. Under the agreement, refugee claimants arriving at official land ports of entry to Canada from the United States are ineligible for refugee protection. Many migrants have got around that by crossing into Canada at what the federal government has been calling “irregular border crossings.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden closed that loophole in March by extending the agreement to cover the entire border.

While government lawyers defended the law, refugee advocacy groups claimed it was unconstitutional and that deeming our southern neighbour a safe country violates Section 7 of the Charter, which protects the right to life, liberty and security of the person. The Canadian Council for Refugees, the Canadian Council of Churches and Amnesty International argued before the court that claimants returned to the United States are automatically detained, treated poorly and often face deportation. They also claim there are reports American detention centres provide inadequate medical care and staff who do not respect religious dietary restrictions.

The court rejected those arguments, with Justice Nicholas Kaiser saying there are “safety valves… sufficient to ensure that no deprivations contrary to the principles of fundamental justice occur.”

The court also said failed claimants have access to “curative measures” that allow the temporary deferral of removals in case of a humanitarian crisis.

The flow of “irregular” migrants into Canada, particularly as Quebec’s Roxham Road, has been a political hot potato for many years and shelters have been grappling with the refugee surge to the point that many have been shipped from the Quebec border crossing to cities like Toronto and Niagara Falls. 

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