Canada’s changes needed the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) to keep migrants from entering from the United States at illegal border crossings, including the Roxham Road crossing in Quebec, are legal, its top court has said.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in the case Canadian Council for Refugees v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2023 SCC 17 that migrants trying to enter Canada illegally from the United States could be denied entry even if they claimed they were in danger in the United States.
A loophole that allowed migrants to cross into Canada illegally from the United States was plugged earlier this year and was challenged in court.
But Supreme Court Justice Nicholas Kasirer, who wrote the ruling disagreed with claims the changes were unconstitutional and put individual lives at risk.
“A degree of difference as between the legal schemes applicable in the two countries can be tolerated, so long as the American system is not fundamentally unfair,” his judgment reads.
“In my view, the record does not support the conclusion that the American detention regime is fundamentally unfair.”
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Immigration Minister Sean Fraser is pleased with the Supreme Court’s ruling and says Canada will continue to work hard on refugee claims to provide a safe haven for people from throughout the world.
“The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld the constitutional validity of the designation of the United States as a safe third country in that it meets the principles of fundamental justice under section 7 of the Charter,” said Fraser.
“The Safe Third Country Agreement regime continues in place. We will respond to the section 15 charter issues as the federal court process gets underway.”
Under the STCA, Canada and the United States share a responsibility to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms.
“We remain actively engaged on migration, asylum and refugee issues, at a time when global displacement is at record levels,” said Fraser.
“We will continue to work with like-minded partners globally to promote safe and regular pathways, and to support other countries in establishing their domestic frameworks to offer protection to refugees and asylum claimants.”
Migrants’ Rights Protesters Marched From Montreal Towards Roxham Road Crossing On The Weekend
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the STCA, dozens of activists marched from Montreal to Roxham Road over the weekend to protest for migrants’ rights, claiming the changes to the agreement infringe on the rights to asylum.
“We think it sabotages the right to asylum as recognized by international law,” Delphine Mass, one of the protesters, reportedly told CTV News.
Those protesters claim the United States is not a safe country for asylum seekers and that they are subject to political pressure.
“We’re worried that by closing the border completely, it’s going to force people that really have a reason to come into Canada to go through unsafe routes,” Jill Hanley, another protester, reportedly told the news outlet.
Under a deal worked out between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden, Canada is obligated to welcome an extra 15,000 refugees from South and Central America who are fleeing persecution and violence over the coming year.
In the eight years that ended in January, 2023, Canada welcomed 230,370 refugees, including 47,890 last year alone, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) data reveals.
In the past eight years, Canada’s annual level of immigration from refugees has more than doubled, jumping 145.6 per cent from 19,495 in 2015.
Any migrants trying to cross illegally into Canada are now to be returned to the United States. Once there, they can make a legal claim for asylum into Canada.
The STCA, inked in 2004, initially only applied to official border crossings and left migrants who crossed at unofficial border crossings, such as Roxham Road, free to stay in Canada while awaiting hearings or decisions on their cases.
Last year, a reported 39,000 migrants crossed into Canada illegally at Roxham Road.
Blocking migrants’ access to Canada at Roxham Road, though, has been decried by at least one human rights organization.
Amnesty International lawyer Julia Sande has called the move to expand the provisions of the STCA unconscionable.
“It’ll just push people to more remote areas, more dangerous crossings,” Sande has reportedly said.