Important to Note That 50 Percent Of Asylum Claims Made By Persons Who Enter Canada Irregularly Are Granted
Between January 1st and April 30th of this year, more than 7,600 migrants have crossed the border between Canada and the United States without going through an official border post, or irregularly. These migrants have crossed irregularly because the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) between the United States and Canada ensures that if they presented themselves at an official Canadian port of entry, they would be turned away with few exceptions.
Faced with growing pressure to prevent irregular migration at Canada’s unofficial border, Canada’s Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said, in a recent interview, “We do not appreciate or welcome irregular migration.” He went on to add that people who do not need Canada’s protection should apply to immigrate via the formal immigration processes. This statement reiterates the government’s attempts to dispel the myth that immigrating to Canada is easy if you cross the border irregularly.
Hussen’s statement comes after reports of pamphlets for border crossers were found circulating in Plattsburgh, New York. Plattsburgh is the last stop for asylum seekers who plan to cross the Roxham Road border into Quebec. These pamphlets described what to expect when crossing the border both irregularly and at an official port of entry, along with legal aid information. It also cites the STCA and how entering at an official port of entry may result in being turned away and detained.
The Conservatives have said that Hussen and the Liberals aren’t doing enough to stop this influx of irregular border crossers and are demanding a change to the STCA to put an end to irregular migration, suggesting that the entire Canada-U.S. border should be made an official port of entry, “so that the 'safe third country' prohibition on entry is extended to cover the entire border.” They reason that this would close the loophole in the STCA that makes it possible for those to claim asylum after crossing irregularly.
Wading through the morass of conflicting information and opinions about the STCA can be difficult and confusing. Here are a few facts about the STCA and the role that it plays in protecting individuals with a well-founded fear of persecution in their country of origin – or not.
In effect since December 2004, the STCA stands for the notion that Canada and the United States have each declared the other country safe for refugee claimants and established the principle that asylum seekers must claim protection in whichever country they reach first. However, in the wake of anti-immigration and anti-Muslim rhetoric and measures adopted by the United States President, the reality is that the United States is no longer a safe country for all asylum seekers and does not have the same procedural protections afforded to refugee claimants.
Many of these people do have a well-founded fear of persecution. It is noteworthy that over 50 percent of asylum claims made by persons who enter Canada irregularly are granted by the Immigration and Refugee Board, the independent body tasked with hearing claims for refugee protection and deciding whether to accept them.
The Conservative’s proposal is unreasonable, as acknowledged by the Immigration Minister, because Canada would have to post customs officials at every 100 metres along the border. More importantly, many irregular migrants to Canada are at grave risk of return to their country of origin by a US administration with a very different stance towards refugees; present-day United States is a vastly different country than the one that originally signed the STCA in 2004.
Many organizations and advocacy groups are also calling for changes to the STCA. However, unlike the Conservatives, they strenuously oppose the STCA because they believe the designation of the United States as a safe country violates refugee rights under international law and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
While Mr. Hussen has agreed that the STCA is in need of an update, his recent statements reflect significant shortcomings that call for action. It is imperative that Canada recognize that an agreement whose purpose and effect is to reduce the number of refugees who can seek Canada’s protection is unacceptable.