Canada Supreme Court upholds accord that sends some asylum-seekers back to US

Jun 16, 2023, 8:01 AM

TORONTO (AP) — Canada’s Supreme Court on Friday upheld an immigration agreement between the United States and Canada that says asylum seekers must apply in the first country they arrive in.

The 2002 Safe Third Country Agreement between the U.S. and Canada says migrants who go to an official Canadian crossing are returned to the U.S. and told to apply there, in efforts to control the flow of asylum-seekers across the shared border. The high court deemed the pact constitutional.

“In my view, the record does not support the conclusion that the American detention regime is fundamentally unfair,” said the ruling written by Justice Nicholas Kasirer.

The Canadian Council for Refugees challenged the constitutionality of the 2002 agreement on behalf of a number of applicants including a Muslim woman from Ethiopia who was detained after her attempt to enter Canada from the U.S.

Lawyers had asked the top court to declare that the legislation underpinning the pact violates the right to life, liberty and security of the person, saying the U.S. is not actually safe for many asylum seekers.

Those who reach Canadian soil somewhere other than a port of entry — like the center near Roxham Road — had been allowed to stay and request protection until an additional agreement announced in March. That agreement closed a loophole that had allowed thousands of asylum-seeking immigrants to move between the two countries along a back road linking New York state to the Canadian province of Quebec. The ruling also preserves the closing of that loophole.

Since early 2017, so many migrants walked into Canada on Roxham Road outside Champlain, New York, that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police staffed a reception center to process them, less than five miles (8 kilometers) from the official border crossing.

But the recently enacted policy says that asylum seekers without U.S. or Canadian citizenship who are caught within 14 days of crossing anywhere along the 3,145-mile (5,061-kilometer) border will be sent back. That includes people walking on Roxham Road.

The March agreement reached by U.S. President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime came as the U.S. Border Patrol responded to a steep increase in illegal southbound crossings along the wide-open Canadian border.

The number of illegal border crossers into the U.S. from Canada is tiny compared with those entering the country illegally from Mexico, but there have been fatalities of people seeking to cross on the Canadian side of the border.

Karen Musalo, director of the San Francisco-based Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, said in a statement that it was hard to understand how the Canadian high court reached its decision because, “by no objective assessment” can the U.S. be considered safe for asylum-seekers.

“The Biden administration has embraced policies that deprive refugees of their right to seek protection, resulting in their unlawful return to countries where they face persecution and torture,” the statement said.

Amnesty International has said the updated agreement creates an even more dangerous and unfair situation for people seeking asylum in Canada.


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Canada Supreme Court upholds accord that sends some asylum-seekers back to US