A federal court judge says the Safe Third Country Agreement — Canada’s asylum agreement with the United States — infringes upon the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and is giving the federal government six months to respond.
Justice Ann Marie McDonald said the agreement — which stops people from entering either Canada or the U.S. at official Canada-U.S. border crossings and asking for asylum — violates the section of the Charter guaranteeing “the right to life, liberty and security of the person”
The case was brought forward by the Canadian Council of Refugees, Amnesty International, the Canadian Council of Churches and a number of individual litigants who argued that by returning ineligible refugee claimants to the U.S., Canada exposes them to risks — including detention and eventual deportation to countries where they could face harm.
“The applicants have provided significant evidence of the risks and challenges faced by STCA ineligible claimants when they are returned to the U.S.,” McDonald wrote.
“The evidence establishes that the conduct of Canadian officials in applying the provisions of the STCA will provoke certain, and known, reactions by U.S. officials. In my view, the risk of detention for the sake of ‘administrative’ compliance with the provisions of the STCA cannot be justified.”
‘Canada cannot turn a blind eye’
The Safe Third Country Agreement states that refugee claimants are required to request refugee protection in the first safe country they arrive in — meaning Canadian border officials would send back to the U.S. any would-be refugee claimants arriving at an official border crossing into Canada.
One of the applicants in the case, Nedira Mustefa, is a Muslim woman from Ethiopia who was detained in the U.S. after her attempt to enter Canada. She was held in solitary confinement for one week.
According to the court decision, Mustefa described her time in solitary as “a terrifying, isolating and psychologically traumatic experience.”
“Canada cannot turn a blind eye to the consequences that befell Ms. Mustefa in its efforts to adhere to the STCA,” reads the decision.
“The evidence clearly demonstrates that those returned to the U.S. by Canadian officials are detained as a penalty.”
The government — the respondents in the case — argued that while failed claimants are subject to detention in the U.S., there is a fair detention review process available. McDonald rejected that argument.
“Suggesting that those who are imprisoned will eventually be released is not sufficient evidence of minimal impairment,” she wrote.
The government also argued that striking down the agreement would lead to an increase in claims and put the overall refugee system at risk.
“However, in my view, the evidence offered by the respondents on this point is weak,” wrote the justice. “In the past, Canada has demonstrated flexibility to adjust to fluctuations in refugee numbers in response to needs.”
Blair’s office reviewing the decision
The agreement has come under intense scrutiny since U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration began tightening asylum rules.
Advocates have argued the Trump administration’s actions mean the U.S. is no longer a safe harbour for those seeking asylum.
McDonald ruled the agreement invalid but has suspended that declaration for six months to allow Parliament to respond.
A spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said the department is “aware of the Federal Court’s decision and [is] currently reviewing it.
“Although the Federal Court has made its ruling, that decision does not come in effect until January 22, 2021. The Safe Third Country Agreement remains in effect,” said press secretary Mary-Liz Power.
Trudeau nominates first judge of colour to sit on Supreme Court
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday made history by nominating the first judge of color to sit on the country’s Supreme Court, which has only ever had white justices in its 146-year existence.
Mahmud Jamal, who has been a judge on Ontario‘s court of appeal since 2019, trained as a lawyer and appeared before the Supreme Court in 35 appeals addressing a range of civil, constitutional, criminal and regulatory issues.
“He’ll be a valuable asset to the Supreme Court – and that’s why, today, I’m announcing his historic nomination to our country’s highest court,” Trudeau said on Twitter.
Trudeau has frequently said there is a need to address systemic racism in Canada.
Jamal, born in Nairobi in 1967, emigrated with his family to Britain in 1969 where he said he was “taunted and harassed because of my name, religion, or the color of my skin.”
In 1981 the family moved to Canada, where his “experiences exposed me to some of the challenges and aspirations of immigrants, religious minorities, and racialized persons,” he said in a document submitted to support his candidacy.
Canada is a multicultural country, with more than 22% of the population comprised of minorities and another 5% aboriginal, according to the latest census.
“We know people are facing systemic discrimination, unconscious bias and anti-black racism every single day,” Trudeau said last year.
Jamal will replace Justice Rosalie Abella, who is due to retire from the nine-person court on July 1.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Matthew Lewis)
Donors pledge $1.5 billion for Venezuelan migrants, humanitarian crisis
More than 30 countries and two development banks on Thursday pledged more than $1.5 billion in grants and loans to aid Venezuelan migrants fleeing a humanitarian crisis, as well as their host countries and vulnerable people still in the country.
The $954 million in grants announced at a donors’ conference hosted by Canada – which included pledges of $407 million from the United States and C$115 million Canadian dollars ($93.12 million) from Canada – exceeded the $653 million announced at a similar event last year.
But that fell short of the needs of countries hosting the more than 5.6 million Venezuelans who have left their country since 2015, as the once-prosperous nation’s economy collapsed into a years-long hyperinflationary recession under socialist President Nicolas Maduro.
Most have resettled in developing countries in Latin America and the Caribbean who have themselves seen their budgets stretched thin due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Does this cover all needs? Of course not,” Filippo Grandi, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told reporters. “We will have to continue to encourage donors to support the response.”
At the conference, Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso announced that the country – which hosts some 430,000 Venezuelans – would begin a new process to regularize migrants’ status. That came after Colombia in February gave 10-year protected status to the 1.8 million Venezuelans it hosts.
Karina Gould, Canada‘s minister for international development, said the amount pledged showed donors were eager to support such efforts.
“There is that recognition on behalf of the global community that there needs to be support to ensure that that generosity can continue, and can actually deepen, in host countries,” Gould said.
In addition, the World Bank and Inter-American Developmemt Bank pledged $600 million in loans to address the crisis, Gould said.
($1 = 1.2349 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by Luc Cohen, Michelle Nichols and David Ljunggren; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Aurora Ellis)
Ecuador to start new ‘normalization process’ for Venezuelan migrants
Ecuador will implement a new “normalization process” for the 430,000 Venezuelan migrants living in the South American country, President Guillermo Lasso said on Thursday, without providing further details of the plan.
Lasso’s announcement, at a conference hosted by Canada intended to raise money to support the more than 5.6 million Venezuelans who have fled an economic crisis in the South American country, came after Colombia in February gave 10-year protected status to the nearly 2 million Venezuelans it hosts.
“I am pleased to announce the beginning of a new regularization process, which in order to be an effective, lasting and permanent policy should be complemented by strategies for economic integration and labor market access,” Lasso said.
Ecuador in late 2019 launched a regularization process for Venezuelans who arrived before July of that year. That included two-year humanitarian visas meant to facilitate access to social services.
Lasso said Ecuador needed outside funding to continue caring for Venezuelan migrants, estimating that more than 100,000 additional migrants were expected to arrive before the end of the year.
“I call on our partners in the international community to be co-responsible and have solidarity with Venezuelan migrants and refugees, and with the countries that receive them,” he said.
(Reporting by Luc Cohen; editing by Barbara Lewis)