Canada’s federal court rules asylum pact with US violates human rights

More than 50,000 have illegally crossed Canada-US border to file refugee claims over past four years

A Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer warns a family they will be arrested if they cross into Canada from Champlain, New York in 2017. Photograph: Todd Heisler/The New York Times

A Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer warns a family they will be arrested if they cross into Canada from Champlain, New York in 2017. Photograph: Todd Heisler/The New York Times

 

Canada’s federal court has ruled that a longstanding pact with Washington which prevents migrants from seeking asylum when they attempt to enter the country from the US is invalid because it violates their human rights.

Under the so-called Safe Third Country Agreement between the two neighbours, asylum seekers at a formal border crossing travelling in either direction are turned back and told to apply for asylum in the country they first arrived in.

Lawyers for refugees who had been turned away at the Canadian border challenged the agreement, saying the United States does not qualify as a “safe” country under US president Donald Trump.

Advocates have long warned that the pact, known as the Safe Third Country Agreement, encourages migrants to take long, riskier routes to enter Canada and file claims inland, where the agreement does not apply.

More than 50,000 people have illegally crossed the Canada-US border to file refugee claims over the past four years, walking through waist-deep snow and fording icy rivers along the world’s longest undefended border.

The court challenge came as Canada sought to stem the human tide of asylum seekers that flowed into the country starting in 2016, after Mr Trump promised to crack down on illegal immigration into the US. Experts have said suspending the agreement would have huge implications for the Canada-US relationship.

Federal court judge Ann Marie McDonald ruled that the agreement was in violation of a section of Canada’s charter of rights that says laws or state actions that interfere with life, liberty and security must conform to the principles of fundamental justice.

She suspended her decision for six months to give parliament a chance to respond to the ruling. The ruling is not final and can be appealed to the federal court of appeal and then the supreme court if necessary.

Canada’s justice ministry and immigration ministry had no immediate comment, nor did officials in the US embassy in Ottawa.–Guardian