"I commend the tireless efforts and dedication of the organizations, advocates, and legal teams who led this fight. Although the work is far from finished, may this win invigorate our struggles for refugee rights and justice.” — Larry Brown, NUPGE President
Ottawa (17 August 2020) — Last month, a Federal Court judge ruled that the Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the U.S. infringes on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) welcomes the ruling, which finally recognizes that the US is not a safe place for refugees.
“The Federal Court decision marks an important victory for refugee and migrant rights,” said Larry Brown, NUPGE President. “On behalf of NUPGE, I commend the tireless efforts and dedication of the organizations, advocates, and legal teams who led this fight. Although the work is far from finished, may this win invigorate our struggles for refugee rights and justice.”
The Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) came into effect in December 2004. The agreement is based on the assumption that both countries are safe places for refugees. Therefore, it requires asylum seekers to request refugee status in the first country in which they arrive, meaning that those trying to come to Canada through the U.S. would be turned away at the Canadian border.
In July 2017, the Canadian Council of Refugees, Amnesty International, the Canadian Council of Churches, along with individual litigants, launched a legal challenge against the STCA. They argued that the U.S. was never a safe place for all refugees, but it has become more dangerous under the Trump administration.
Evidence and testimonies presented in the case illustrated how Canada put refugee claimants at risk by sending them back to the U.S. This includes being detained, denied protections, or deported to their countries of origin. Under the Trump administration, anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rhetoric and measures, often steeped in Islamophobia, and a ramping up of enforcement have put refugees at even greater risk.
NUPGE has previously spoken out about the STCA, joining the calls for its suspension.
STCA violates Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Federal Court Justice Ann Marie McDonald agreed that the STCA violates the Charter right to life, liberty, and security of the person.
In her decision, McDonald wrote: “The evidence establishes that the conduct of Canadian officials in applying the provisions of the STCA will provoke certain, and known, reactions by U.S. officials. In my view, the risk of detention for the sake of ‘administrative’ compliance with the provisions of the STCA cannot be justified.”
Canada must take responsibility, action
McDonald also urged that, “Canada cannot turn a blind eye to the consequences" asylum seekers are subjected to upon return to the U.S.
Although McDonald found the STCA invalid, her ruling does not come into effect until January 2021, giving the federal government 6 months to respond (CBC News).
NUPGE echoes Justice McDonald’s comments. The Canadian government has a responsibility to recognize the atrocities and rights violations happening in the U.S., and to immediately take every action possible to prevent further harm. We all have a responsibility to speak out and to demand justice for refugees.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE