Criticism Over Canada's Safe 3rd Country Agreement With The U.S.

Published on: Aug 08, 2019 | Tags: Canadian Refugee, Canada Immigration


In 2017, as part of Canada's immigration surge, the Olympic Stadium in Montreal was used as a temporary migrant shelter. Since then, thousands of migrants have entered the country from the U.S. without a Canada Visa, Canada ETA, or other official entry/residency permit. This means they have evaded the official system that awards entry points and have sought asylum 'through the back door'.

One migrant's story

One migrant who entered Canada through unofficial channels now lives in a popular Toronto suburb. Having been granted asylum, she has spoken candidly to the media about her family's arrival from Houston. Born in Syria originally, she lived in the United Arab Emirates, but then came to the U.S with her family using a temporary visa. In 2012, the family applied for asylum but faced a string of rejections, followed by appeals. They then existed in a kind of legal limbo for a long while, finding it difficult to work or even plan their lives.

Upon President Trump's election, her family was granted temporary protected status to avoid being deported back to Syria. However, she was worried about the President's new stance on immigration, so set about making alternative arrangements for the family's future. This amounted to crossing the U.S. border into Canada in March 2017, using an unofficial entry point. Upon arrival in Canada, the family applied for asylum.

The Third Country Agreement loophole

It's well-known that people cross the Canadian border unofficially as a result of the Safe Third Country Agreement, which states that the U.S. and Canada can both provide protection to asylum seekers. Therefore, those who have to leave their home countries for reasons of war or persecution can apply for asylum in the U.S or Canada, depending on which country they reach first.

However, under the agreement, people coming from the U.S. are then unable to apply for Canadian asylum if when entering via an official crossing point. Canada immigration rules make an exception in rare cases such as when asylum seekers have family in the country. So, migrants who want to access Canada exploit an agreement "loophole" by applying for asylum by simply finding a means to get into the country.

Most people cross the border at a point close to upstate New York and Canada's Quebec province. On the Canadian side, mounted police try to stop anyone they see. Although the migrant interception figures here are not as high as they are on the border between the U.S. and Mexico, the situation in Canada has taken on a political significance because the nation is not used to these types of arrivals.

The loophole causes political upset

Canada has always had a highly ordered immigration system, with means of entry such as the Canada visa and Canada ETA in place for visitors among other means of temporary or permanent entry into the country.

In political terms, the Conservative opposition party has tried to use the loophole issue as a means of unseating the Trudeau government, branding the irregular crossings as almost unbelievable. So, over the last couple of years and the start of the influx, the Trudeau government has tried hard to reduce the numbers of illegal migrants and has appointed a border security minister.

Amnesty Canada involved

The director of Amnesty Canada, Alex Neve, has highlighted that the U.S. doesn't offer the same protection for immigrants as Canad, and argues that Canada should permit people to claim asylum at all the official border crossing points. Neve has also said that Canada should not be turning its back on immigrants. Along with other human rights organizations, Amnesty has joined a lawsuit to get the Third Country Agreement overturned. September 2019 is the month when the hearings are due to take place.

Happy outcome less likely for multiple asylum applications

As for the migrant family living in Toronto whose story is told above, they had a happy outcome and they were eventually granted asylum in Canada. Today, however, things outcome would be quite different. This is because, over this summer, the Canadian government passed several measures as part of a broad budget bill. These measures bar migrants from applying to Canada for asylum if they have previously submitted an application to the U.S or to one of a small number of other countries that share biometric data with Canada.

Anyone who has already applied to another country will be part of an alternative administrative process with less protection offered. A government spokesman has said that the changes were aimed at deterring people from applying for asylum on multiple occasions to multiple countries. Although seemingly harsh, the new process still allows asylum seekers the chance to have their case heard, with the possibility that an exception will be made to grant them asylum in Canada.