Canada’s border with the United States is effectively closed to refugees. Our current border policies—the Safe Third Country Agreement (“STCA”) and the restrictions in the COVID-19 related Orders in Council (“OICs”)—prevent nearly all refugees who approach the border from applying for protection in Canada. This is a sharp turn away from Canada’s commitment to refugee protection and puts people at risk.
On July 22, 2020 the Federal Court declared the STCA to be unconstitutional. The Federal Court described the conditions as being “cruel and unusual” including the use of “solitary confinement”. Despite uncontested evidence that many people who try to seek protection in Canada are sent back to the U.S. and jailed, the Government has announced they are appealing this decision.
Restrictions on refugees seeking protection at our border have further increased since COVID-19 struck and border restrictions were put in place. Thousands of people are now crossing the border daily under exceptions to this policy–ranging from workers to certain family members to sports teams and journalists- but refugees are turned away. This is unacceptable given that refugees are at risk in the U.S. Canada cannot trust the U.S. to protect refugees while it waits for the pandemic to ease.
Ending the Safe Third Country Agreement is good for refugees and good for Canada. Without the agreement, irregular crossings at Roxham Road will largely cease, and arriving refugees will be more evenly distributed across the country. There is no evidence to suggest that a surge of refugees will arrive. The solution is to end the STCA now: reconsider the Government’s appeal and immediately cease returns under the STCA.
In addition, the Government’s initial COVID-19 plan was to allow refugees to enter, subject to health screening and mandatory quarantine. This is a good plan that would protect public health and protect refugees from risk in the U.S.
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