The Supreme Court of Canada will take time to weigh arguments about the constitutionality of an 18-year refugee agreement between Ottawa and Washington after hearing a challenge Thursday from claimants and human rights advocates.
The Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) allows Canada to turn away asylum seekers seeking entry from the U.S. at official land border crossings.
However, human rights groups say the U.S. is not a “safe country” for asylum seekers and the pact allows Canada to skirt its international obligations for refugee claimants.
CTVNews.ca breaks down what the agreement entails.
WHAT DOES THE STCA DO?
The Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement was signed in 2002 and came into effect in 2004. Under the agreement, those seeking refugee status in either Canada or the U.S. must make their claim in the first country they enter.
That means most asylum seekers who attempt to cross into Canada at an official crossing are turned away and are told they need to make their asylum claim in the U.S., and vice versa. The only exemptions apply to unaccompanied minors and those with close family members living in Canada.
“If one of those narrow exemptions does not apply, you’re not able to make a claim for refugee protection in Canada. And so what that means is that you’re ordered to be removed or deported, and they contact U.S. authorities,” Amnesty International’s Julia Sande told CTV’s Your Morning on Thursday.
But the agreement has one key loophole: it only applies to official land border crossings. That means that asylum seekers who manage to make a refugee claim within Canada while bypassing an official border crossing won’t be sent back to the U.S.
This has prompted tens of thousands of asylum seekers to enter Canada at irregular crossings, such as Roxham Road, a rural road that goes through the border between Quebec and New York State.
HOW MANY ASYLUM SEEKERS HAVE CROSSED IRREGULARLY?
Since February 2017, Canada has seen 67,805 irregular crossers enter the country. Of these, 28,332 (41 per cent) have had their refugee claims approved. In addition, 19,646 refugee claims have been rejected, 13,369 are still pending and the rest have either been withdrawn or abandoned, according to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB).
Irregular crossings into Canada surged after Donald Trump became president of the United States in 2017, as concerns grew over his anti-immigration rhetoric and executive orders limiting the number of refugees admitted.
According to data from the IRB, the number of irregular crossings peaked between July and September 2017. During this time period, 8,558 asylum seekers irregularly crossed into Canada, corresponding to an average of 2,853 per month.
The average number of irregular crossers per month dipped after that and hovered between 1,200 and 1,400 from late 2018 to early 2020. However, irregular crossings came to a near screeching halt after COVID-19 restrictions at the border were put in place in March 2020 and asylum seekers were sent back to the U.S. unless they met one of the exemptions.
In November 2021, as Canada continued lifting COVID-19 measures at the border, irregular crossers were once again allowed to enter the country and make a claim. Between April and June 2022, 4,512 irregular crossers entered Canada — the most seen since 2019, according to the IRB.
WHAT DO OPPONENTS OF THE STCA SAY?
In 2017, Amnesty International, the Canadian Council for Refugees, and the Canadian Council of Churches launched a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Safe Third Country Agreement.
The organizations say the legislation underpinning the STCA violates Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees life, liberty and security of the person, in addition to Section 15, which guarantees equal protection and benefit under the law.
Sande says asylum seekers who are turned back from Canada often face immigration detention in the U.S.
“When people are in detention, they’re subjected to solitary confinement, staggering rates of sexual violence, really inhumane conditions, not given religiously appropriate food,” she said. “The detention in itself is problematic and harmful. But in addition, when you’re in detention, it’s a lot more difficult to access counsel.”
Sande says the increased difficulty accessing legal counsel means asylum seekers have a higher chance of being deported. On top of that, she said crossing the border at irregular crossings can come with serious risks.
Many of these crossers use Roxham Road, where the RCMP have set up a presence to handle the high volume of asylum seekers. But at other parts of the border, some asylum seekers have made long journeys on foot through empty farm fields in the winter, risking frostbite.
“We’ve heard of people losing fingers from frostbite and really putting themselves at risk. And so I would say it’s neither compassionate nor orderly,” Sande said.
Canada is also subject to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which stipulates that states cannot return refugees to dangerous countries. The human rights groups argue the pact lets Canada “contract out” its international obligations to refugee claimants without proper followup the U.S. is doing the job.
In July 2020, the Federal Court agreed, and ruled the Safe Third Country Agreement was unconstitutional. The federal government appealed the ruling and last December, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear the case.
WHAT HAVE FEDERAL PARTIES SAID?
The NDP and the Bloc Quebecois have long called on the federal government to suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement, and allow asylum seekers to cross into Canada at official crossings so they won’t have to make potentially dangerous journeys through irregular crossings.
Meanwhile, the Conservatives say the STCA should be strengthened to allow Canada to send irregular crossers back to the U.S.
The three opposition parties recently signed a letter calling for an inquiry looking at how public funds were used to build intake facilities at the border near Roxham Road.
In the House of Commons on Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada “works with the U.S. government every day to improve the Safe Third Country Agreement.” Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) told CTV’s Your Morning the agreement “has served Canada well” and is necessary to ensure that the border “remains well-managed.”
“Canada believes that the STCA remains a comprehensive means for the compassionate, fair and orderly handling of asylum claims in our two countries,” IRCC said in an email statement.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault has also called on the feds to close the unofficial Roxham Road crossing and said his government does not have the capacity to deal with the influx of people. Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said on Thursday the government is working “very carefully with Quebec” to manage the flow of asylum seekers.
“We transfer significant federal funds to that province every year to help with ensuring that there is due process, that there… is a baseline of support for people who are filing claims,” he told reporters before a cabinet meeting in Ottawa.
“We have to reach agreements, with partnerships with the United States, with Quebec, and that’s exactly what the federal government will do,” he added in French.
With files from The Canadian Press
Canada's top five federal contaminated sites to cost taxpayers billions to clean up – CTV News
With a cost estimate of $4.38 billion, remediation of the Giant Mine, one of the most contaminated sites in Canada, is also expected to be the most expensive federal environmental cleanup in the country’s history.
The figure, recently approved by the Treasury Board of Canada, spans costs from 2005 until 2038, when active remediation at the former Yellowknife gold mine is anticipated to end. That includes $710 million the federal government said has already been spent, but does not include costs forlong-term care and maintenance.
“It doesn’t bother me so much that it’s going to cost $4 billion to clean up Giant Mine. What really bothers me is that the taxpayer is covering that cost,” said David Livingstone, chair of the Giant Mine Oversight Board.
It indicates the federal government failed to ensure private developers provided financial security to remediate sites. He said while that has improved over time, there will likely be more issues in the future.
“We as a society need to get a better handle on what it costs us to support mining industry and oil and gas industry,” he said. “If the numbers suggest that it’s going to cost more to clean up a site than that site generated in revenue to the Crown, we’ve got a problem.”
There are more than 20,000 locations listed in the federal contaminated sites inventory, from dumps and abandoned mines to military operations on federal land.
Environment and Climate Change Canada says that after Giant Mine, the four most expensive cleanups are the Faro Mine in Yukon, the Port Hope Area Initiative in Ontario, Esquimalt Harbour in British Columbia and Yukon’s United Keno Hill Mine.
More than $2 billion has been spent on the five sites so far, and it’s anticipated they will cost taxpayers billions more in the coming years. Their final price tags are not yet known.
The most recent numbers from the Treasury Board of Canada indicate more than $707 million has been spent on remediation, care and maintenance at Faro Mine, a former open pit lead-zinc mine.Its remediation project is expected to take 15 years to complete and is currently estimated to cost $1 billion, plus $166 million for the first 10 years of long-term operation and maintenance.
Parsons Inc. was awarded a $108-million contract in February for construction, care and maintenance at Faro Mine until March 2026, with the option to extend the contract for the duration of active remediation. The company said the contract could ultimately span 20 years and exceed $2 billion.
In 2012, Ottawa committed $1.28 billion in funding over 10 years for the cleanup of historical low-level radioactive waste in the municipalities of Port Hope and Port Grandby, Ont. To date more than $722 million has been spent on assessment and remediation.
The Port Grandby Project was completed earlier this year and has moved into long-term monitoring for hundreds of years. The Port Hope cleanup, which started in 2018, will continue into 2030.
The cleanup in the Esquimalt Harbour seabed in Victoria currently has a budget of $162.5 million. Roughly $214 million has already been spent on remediation and assessment. The Department of National Defence said that may include costs before 2015, when the remediation project began.
Cleanup of United Keno Hill Mine, a historical silver, lead and zinc mining property near Yukon’s Keno City, is estimated to cost $125 million, including $79 million during its active reclamation phase. That is expected to begin in 2023 and take five years, followed by a two-year transition phase then long-term monitoring and maintenance. More than $67 million has been spent on remediation, care and maintenance at the site so far.
Other costly federal sites that have been cleaned up include the Cape Dyer Dew-Line, 21 former radar stations across the Arctic, for $575 million, the Sydney tar ponds and coke ovens on Cape Breton Island, N.S., for nearly $398 million, and the 5 Wing Goose Bay air force base in Labrador, for $142.9 million.
The 2022 public accounts state the gross liability for the 2,524 federal contaminated sites where action is required is nearly $10 billion based on site assessments. Of the 3,079 unassessed sites, 1,330 are projected to proceed to remediation with an estimated liability of $256 million.
The federal contaminated sites action plan was established in 2005 with $4.54 billion in funding over 15 years. That was renewed for an additional 15 years, from 2020 to 2034, with a commitment of $1.16 billion for the first five years.
Jamie Kneen with MiningWatch Canada said the contamination from Giant Mine highlights the importance of the planning and assessment process for development projects.
“If you don’t actually do any planning around something, you can end up with a pretty horrible mess,” he said. “In this case, it killed people before they started even capturing the arsenic. We don’t want that to happen anymore.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 27, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Trudeau government unveils long-awaited plan to confront an 'increasingly disruptive' China – CBC News
Canada’s long-awaited Indo-Pacific strategy describes China as “an increasingly disruptive global power” on the world stage — a social and economic force that’s too big to ignore but is also increasingly focused on bending international rules to suit its own interests.
Using some surprisingly blunt language, the strategy says the Canadian government needs to be “clear-eyed” about China’s objectives in the Far East and elsewhere. It promises to spend almost half a billion dollars over five years on improving military and intelligence co-operation with allies in the region.
“China’s rise, enabled by the same international rules and norms that it now increasingly disregards, has had an enormous impact on the Indo-Pacific, and it has ambitions to become the leading power in the region,” says the 26-page document, which was provided to the media in advance of its formal release in Vancouver on Sunday.
“China is making large-scale investments to establish its economic influence, diplomatic impact, offensive military capabilities and advanced technologies. China is looking to shape the international order into a more permissive environment for interests and values that increasingly depart from ours.”
The strategy document also says that “China’s sheer size and influence makes co-operation necessary to address some of the world’s existential pressures, such as climate change and biodiversity loss, global health and nuclear proliferation.”
In that respect, Canada’s foreign policy blueprint mirrors the approaches taken by its closest allies, including the United States, which last February released its own vision for engagement in the region.
Where the American and Canadian strategies differ is in how Canada’s document spells out that it will “at all times unapologetically defend our national interest” and that its views will be “shaped by a realistic and clear-eyed assessment of today’s China.”
Many observers — including some prominent Liberals — have urged the government over the past few years to maintain the pro-business and investment relationship with Beijing that has built up over the last two decades.
The new strategy document, however, appears to reflect the lessons of the bruising international clashes that have driven relations between Canada and China into the deep freeze: the arrest and extradition fight involving Chinese telecom executive Meng Wanzhou; China’s retaliatory detention of Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig; and even the lecture Chinese President Xi Jinping recently delivered to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — an event caught on camera.
“In areas of profound disagreement, we will challenge China, including when it engages in coercive behaviour — economic or otherwise — ignores human rights obligations or undermines our national security interests and those of partners in the region,” the strategy document says.
In an interview airing Sunday on CBC’s Rosemary Barton Live, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly described the overall plan as “pragmatic” and principled.
“Our approach is clear, you know, and we have a clear framework which is essentially about protecting our national interests without compromising our values and principles,” Joly said.
“So what I’ve said many times at this point is we will challenge when we ought to and we will co-operate when we must.”
Foreign investment, foreign interference
Overall, the strategy envisions about $2 billion in investments to, among other things, strengthen Canadian “infrastructure, democracy and Canadian citizens against foreign interference.”
It proposes changes to the Investment Canada Act to prevent state-owned enterprises and other foreign entities that threaten Canada’s national security from taking over critical Canadian industries and intellectual property. All federal departments are being told to review Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with China and other countries to ensure Canada’s national interests are being protected.
The strategy upholds Canada’s One-China policy when it comes to Taiwan. The island — a democracy — faces increasing threats from Beijing, which has not ruled out the use of military force in its drive to unify Taiwan with the mainland.
“Canada will oppose unilateral actions that threaten the status quo in the Taiwan Strait,” the strategy says. On Sunday, Defence Minister Anita Anand skirted questions about Canada’s willingness to defend Taiwan, as well as whether the government was concerned about a backlash from China due to Canada’s increased presence.
“We will ensure that the region remains one that is stable and will continue to grow economically,” she said.
Also on Sunday, Joly drew a direct line between Canada’s involvement in the Pacific and another major focus of its foreign policy: the Arctic. She said closer ties with South Korea and Japan would support Canada’s goal of maintaining sovereignty in the region, in light of increased interest from countries like China.
“More Canadian men and women will be in the region to ensure peace and also uphold the rule of law,” she said.
The strategy document has been years in the making and was eagerly anticipated by Canada’s allies in the region, including Japan and South Korea, which have been lobbying for deeper co-operation. It also contains a section on India, which includes a commitment to work toward a new trade agreement.
The Liberal government promised when first elected in 2015 to develop a new approach to China after years of prickly relations under the former Conservative administration.
But Canada has struggled to figure out how to engage with an increasingly assertive — sometimes belligerent — China and its supreme leader Xi, who has openly rejected elements of Western-style governance, such as the separation of powers.
The Liberals signalled a plan to increase Canada’s military commitment to the region during the prime minister’s recent overseas trip to the G20 Summit.
That commitment is outlined in broad strokes in the strategy document through promises to boost engagement in international military exercises and to increase the number of Canadian warships deployed in the region.
There’s also a pledge to help smaller countries in the region build up their security forces, presumably with the help of Canadian training. That pledge is similar to the promise the Liberal government made in 2017 to help increase the training and quality of United Nations peacekeepers — a promise that has gone unfulfilled.
The strategy says the military commitments being made are tied to the ongoing review of Canada’s defence policy, ordered in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February. That review has yet to be made public.
The defence and security promises in the Indo-Pacific Strategy are being made at a time when the Canadian military is short 10,000 members and is struggling to recruit new ones.
Joly said the government will make the strategy work and will be “putting money where our mouth is.”
Earlier this month, China’s embassy in Canada responded to a speech made by Joly that previewed the new strategy, saying it “contained a lot of negative contents related to China that distorted the truth, exaggerated the so-called ‘China threat’ and discredited China’s image, which constituted a gross interference in China’s internal affairs. China is deeply concerned about this and firmly opposes it.”
The strategy was welcomed by the U.S. ambassador to Canada, David Cohen, in a statement Sunday.
Canadian military would be ‘challenged’ to launch a large scale operation: chief of the defence staff
Canada’s military forces are “ready” to meet their commitments should Russia’s war in Ukraine spread to NATO countries, but it would be a “challenge” to launch a larger scale operation in the long term, with ongoing personnel and equipment shortages, according to Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre.
Eyre told Joyce Napier on CTV’s Question Period in an interview airing Sunday that while the forces in Europe are “ready for the tactical mission they’ve been assigned,” he has larger concerns about strategic readiness. He said there’s a lack of people and equipment, and further concern around the ability to sustain a larger scale mission in the longer term.
The Canadian Armed Forces are still struggling to retain staff, with nearly 10,000 fewer trained personnel than they’d need to be at full force, and equipment stocks below what they require.
“We’ve got challenges in all of those,” Eyre said, adding the numbers reflect what’s been “let slip over decades, as we’ve focused on the more immediate (needs).”
Eyre said Canada’s military would be “hard pressed” to launch another large-scale operation like it had in Afghanistan, as an example, without having to redistribute its resources around the globe, as threats evolve.
“The military that we have now is going to be increasingly called upon to support Canada and to support Canadian interests, to support our allies overseas, but as well at home,” Eyre said, citing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, climate change impacting the landscape in the Arctic, and an increase in digital and cybersecurity threats.
“It’s always a case of prioritization and balancing our deployments around the globe, not just with what, but when, and with who … and getting that balance right is something that that we’re working on,” he said. “Could we use more? Yeah, absolutely. But we operate with what we have.”
“We prioritize and balance based on what our allies need, and what the demand signals, just to make sure that we achieve the strategic effect the government wants us to achieve,” he also said.
Meanwhile Defence Minister Anita Anand said on CTV’s Question Period last week that Canada should “be able to walk and chew gum at the same time,” and balance its NATO commitments with securing the Arctic and promoting peace in the Indo-Pacific.
Eyre said his number one priority is getting Canada’s armed forces up to full strength, with an attrition rate of 9.3 per cent between both regular and reserve forces, up from 6.9 per cent last year. The Canadian Armed Forces Retention Strategy was released just last month.
“We are facing the same challenge that every other industry out there is facing in terms of a really tight labor market,” Eyre said. “Every other military in the West is facing the same challenge.”
He explained the organization is working on streamlining its recruitment process, among other changes, to meet the increasing need, with the goal to get numbers up “as quickly as possible.”
“Ideally, would have been yesterday,” he said. “We’re looking at where we can accelerate the recruiting, the training, and optimizing our training pipeline.”
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