If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we live in an inter-connected world: what happens in one part of the world affects people in another. While the government is responsible for the security of its peoples and borders, Canada also has ongoing responsibilities and obligations to the international community that cannot be ignored. These include our obligations to protect the world’s most vulnerable populations, including refugees.
The United States and Canada signed the Safe Third Country Agreement (STC) in 2004, whereby each declared the other country safe for refugees. The consistent exception has been migrants arriving at irregular border-crossings. Last week, however, our government announced it will now turn back such asylum seekers. The Prime Minister has said that the government is comfortable that the new policy is in line with Canadian values and that refugees will now be safe in the United States.
The Green Party of Canada does not consider the United States to be a safe third country for all refugees and has called for Canada to withdraw from the STC Agreement. The Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnesty International and the Canadian Council of Churches have legally challenged the STC Agreement, arguing that sending refugee claimants back to the US violates their basic rights and makes Canada complicit when the US returns some of these individuals to their home countries where they face persecution, torture or death.
While US-Canada border traffic has been significantly curtailed, it has not been halted altogether, as many different foreigners continue freely to cross the frontier each day despite the COVID-19 crisis. These include, among others, business travellers and temporary foreign workers and students. Closing our borders to asylum seekers puts their lives at risk without making Canadians any safer. Refugee claimants must continue to have access to Canada, and there is no justification for closing off Canada to asylum seekers.