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Canada should scrap Safe Third Country refugee agreement with US: BCCLA

Last Updated Jan 30, 2017 at 4:08 pm PDT

(Mike Lloyd, NEWS 1130 Photo)

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Canada needs to suspend an agreement that considers the United States safe for refugees and restricts them from coming north across the border, according to the BC Civil Liberties Association.

The Safe Third Country Agreement says people seeking refugee status in the US and Canada must make a claim in the first of the two countries country they land in. Since late 2004, the rule has allowed Canada to turn away refugees who come from other countries via the US.

“The problem is that the premise behind the agreement is that each of our countries is a safe place for a refugee to make a claim is no longer true,” BCCLA executive director Josh Paterson says.

President Donald Trump’s executive order indefinitely bars Syrian refugees to the United States, puts a four-month hold on the US refugee program and bans anyone travelling from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Sudan and Somalia, including non-US citizens who hold dual citizenship, for the next 90 days.

The order sparked chaos at airports as people who were already on flights when it was signed arrived to a new set of rules. A federal judge put a stay on deporting new arrivals, leaving many people in legal limbo and faced with the prospect of going back to a country where they may be in danger.

“There may be people who are already in the United States who were planning on making refugee claims and now no longer can. At the moment, such people couldn’t come to Canada to make their claim here, under the agreement,” Paterson says.

The agreement has come under scrutiny since it was conceived. In 2006, the Canadian Council for Refugees, Canadian Council of Churches and Amnesty International challenged the pact, calling it unlawful and against both the Canadian Charter and international law.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said Canada will not discriminate based on a refugee’s country of origin, race, or religion, and will grant temporary visas to anyone who is trapped at a Canadian airport as a result of the US order.

Paterson, however, says the country also has an obligation to uphold international law to not send refugees to a country where the government knows they will not be accepted.