U.S. border officers at the Peace Arch crossing arrested two men on California warrants this week. (File photo)

U.S. border officers at the Peace Arch crossing arrested two men on California warrants this week. (File photo)

Ottawa predicts system delays, backlogs unless court extends life of refugee pact

Canada and the United States recognize each other as safe places to seek protection

The Trudeau government says there will be upheaval at the Canada-U. S. border early next year if a refugee pact between the two countries is allowed to expire.

Federal lawyers are asking the Federal Court of Appeal to stay a July ruling that struck down the Safe Third Country Agreement but left it in effect until mid-January.

Under the refugee agreement, which took effect in 2004, Canada and the United States recognize each other as safe places to seek protection.

It means Canada can turn back potential refugees who arrive at land ports of entry along the border on the basis they must pursue their claims in the U.S., the country where they first arrived.

Ottawa is appealing the Federal Court ruling that nixed the agreement, and will argue in a hearing this morning that the Appeal Court should pause the decision until the full challenge is resolved.

Refugee claimants and their advocates say the federal application for a stay must be rejected, given that a judge found the bilateral agreement violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In a submission to the Court of Appeal, federal lawyers say the absence of the agreement would serve as “a pull factor” attracting people to make a claim for protection in Canada.

“This will impact all types of port of entry operations and result in significant delays for persons making refugee claims at the land port of entry,” the government submission states.

Suspension of the agreement could also “create negative ripple effects and backlogs” in the overall immigration and refugee system, the government argues.

“This could undermine the ability of Canada’s refugee protection system to determine claims and offer protection in a timely manner to those who have not had the benefit of accessing an asylum process in another safe country.”

Canadian refugee advocates have vigorously fought the asylum agreement, arguing the U.S. is not always a safe country for people fleeing persecution.

Several refugee claimants took the case to court along with the Canadian Council for Refugees, the Canadian Council of Churches and Amnesty International, who participated in the proceedings as public interest parties.

In each case the applicants, who are citizens of El Salvador, Ethiopia and Syria, arrived at a Canadian land entry port from the U.S. and sought refugee protection.

They argued in court that by returning ineligible refugee claimants to the U.S., Canada exposes them to risks in the form of detention and other rights violations.

In her decision, Federal Court Justice Ann Marie McDonald concluded the Safe Third Country Agreement results in ineligible claimants being imprisoned by U.S. authorities.

Detention and the consequences flowing from it are “inconsistent with the spirit and objective” of the refugee agreement and amount to a violation of the rights guaranteed by Section 7 of the charter, she wrote.

“The evidence clearly demonstrates that those returned to the U.S. by Canadian officials are detained as a penalty.”

In their submission to the Court of Appeal, the refugees and their advocates say the government has failed to show that it would suffer irreparable harm if the agreement expires in January.

They contend the government’s assertion that the Canadian refugee system would be overwhelmed is based on speculation and ignores the reality that all travel, and therefore refugee claim numbers, are dramatically down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

federal government

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Twelve new curbside pickup parking spots are now in effect along 30th Avenue in downtown Vernon. (Downtown Vernon Association photo)
Downtown Vernon curbside pick up parking now in drive

12 locations along 30th Avenue intended to help retail and dining sectors amid COVID-19

Vernon Search and Rescue members assisted a groomer operator on the trails at SilverStar Mountain Resort Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. (VSAR photo)
Vernon Search and Rescue helps stranded groomer at Silver Star

Three members responded to the operator whose groomer experienced a mechanical issue Nov. 29

A woman wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 uses walking sticks while walking up a hill, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, November 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Interior Health reports 83 more COVID-19 infections overnight

46 cases are now associated with a COVID-19 community cluster in Revelstoke

An Enderby restaurant and pub has been shut down since Sunday afternoon, Nov. 29, 2020 as a precaution after a guest reportedly tested positive for COVID-19. (Howard Johnson photo)
Enderby pub shuts down after guest reportedly tests positive for COVID-19

The Howard Johnson hotel, restaurant and pub has been closed since Sunday afternoon, Nov. 29

(SilverStar Mountain Resort/Facebook)
Pandemic parking plan at SilverStar irks season pass holders

Unlimited season pass holders limited to days they can reserve parking; resort defends COVID-19 plan

A tongue-in-cheek message about wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 on a sign outside a church near Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection count climbs back up to 656

20 more people in hospital, active cases still rising

The Walking Curriculum gets students outside and connecting with nature. (Amanda Peterson/Special to S.F. Examiner)
‘Walking Curriculum’ crafted by SFU professor surges in popularity

The outdoor curriculum encourages students to connect with the natural world

Brent Ross poses with his dog Jack who died over the weekend after asphyxiating on a ball. Ross hopes his experience serves as a cautionary tale to other dog owners. (Contributed)
Salmon Arm man warns others after dog dies from choking on a ball

Brent Ross grieving the sudden loss of Jack, a healthy, seven-year-old chocolate lab

Mayor Colin Basran at the announcement of the 2021 Tim Horton’s Brier to be hosted in Kelowna on Nov. 21. (Contributed)
Tim Hortons Brier not coming to Kelowna

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted Curling Canada to move to hub model, similar to the NHL playoffs

Robert Gibson, born November 24, 2020 is in BC Children’s Hospital. Photo contributed
Princeton baby fights for his life, with parents at his side

A Go Fund Me campaign has been started to help family with expenses

Grapevine Optical was the victim of an early morning break and enter Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2020. (Crime Stoppers Okanagan / Facebook)
Collection of designer sunglasses stolen from South Okanagan eye-wear shop

Crime Stoppers is seeking the identity of two male suspects

By this time next year, the BC Green Pharmadeuticals cannabis growing facility in Princeton is expected to employ at least 150 people, according to the owner. (File photo)
Princeton cannabis plant thriving despite lawsuit and bad press, says owner

Company expects to hire 30 more employees in the next two months

Most Read