On July 22, 2020, a federal Canadian judge ruled that an asylum treaty between the United States and Canada known as the “Safe Third Country Agreement” is unconstitutional. A copy of the decision can be found here. The Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) mandates that refugees must seek protection in the first country they arrive in. The Canadian judge deemed that the agreement with the U.S. violates Canada’s charter of human rights “because it returns asylum-seekers to the U.S., where they are ‘immediately and automatically imprisoned’ by U.S. authorities, often under inhumane conditions.”
The Safe Third Country Agreement came into effect in 2004. Since that time, many refugees have been denied entry into Canada because they arrived in the U.S. first, a designated “safe” country, where they could seek asylum. The ruling made by Federal Court Judge Ann Marie McDonald states “that the act of sending people back to the U.S., where they were at risk of imprisonment, violated their rights to life, liberty, and security.”
Canada’s Justice Department has thirty days to decide whether to appeal the decision. One of the applicants who challenged the Safe Third Country Agreement, Nedira Jemal Mustefa, was arrested after trying to enter through the Canadian Border from the U.S. She was placed in solitary confinement for one week and describes “losing 15 pounds as a result of not eating, saying that she was given pork even though she told officers she could not eat it for religious reasons.”
The Safe Third Country Agreement has raised more controversy since President Donald Trump took office and began carrying out the administration’s effort to limit asylum as well as other forms of immigration to the U.S. Moreover, “The deal has also been at the center of intense debate in Canada because a loophole allows asylum seekers who cross the border at unauthorized points of entry to proceed into Canada and file their claims.”
Overall, this new ruling further highlights how unwelcoming the U.S. has become to refugees. Unfortunately, the U.S. is becoming less and less of a haven for individuals fleeing persecution and harm in their home countries. Other countries have taken notice including Canada. Time will tell if similar decisions will follow.