Migrant worker groups critical of Ontario’s new farm outbreak plan

It would be helpful to have some independent analysis rather than just quoting the various stakeholders on either side:

A new strategy to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks on Ontario farms does not go far enough to protect vulnerable employees, migrant worker groups said Tuesday, as the province and farmers pledged to do more ahead of the 2021 growing season.

Agriculture Minister Ernie Hardeman launched the strategy Monday, promising millions in funding and issuing 35 recommendations aimed at helping the sector whose workers were hit hard during the first wave of the pandemic.

The strategy aims to prevent and contain farm outbreaks, protect workers and secure Ontario’s food supply chain.

Several migrant worker groups said workers themselves were not consulted in the development of the plan and none of its safety recommendations are mandated by law.

The executive director of the Migrant Workers Alliance said without any binding enforcement, the plan will offer little protection for workers.

“What is the enforcement mechanism?” Syed Hussan said. “What is the complaints mechanism for workers when things are not happening? And what protections do they have when they raise their voices and about complaints?”

Justice for Migrant Workers spokesman Chris Ramsaroop called the document “biased” towards the agri-food companies and said the government is putting business profits over the health of workers.

“The government does not have workers’ interests as their foremost priority,” he said in a statement. “The decades of systemic discrimination and oppression of migrant farm workers which are the causes of the COVID outbreaks are not addressed.”

Development of the strategy was launched earlier this year by Hardeman in partnership with the agri-food sector when COVID-19 outbreaks infected hundreds of farm workers, highlighting problems with their cramped living and working conditions.

Hardeman acknowledged that he had not consulted any migrant worker groups during the development of the document, but stressed that industry compliance with the recommendations will be high because the strategy was largely created with ideas from the agri-food sector itself.

“I can’t emphasize this enough, everyone’s number one interest is to keep the workers safe,” Hardeman said. “With safe workers, we have a productive industry, with sick workers, we don’t have an industry at all.”

The province and federal government will direct $26.6 million towards health and safety measures to bolster pandemic workplace protections.

Ontario will also spend $25.5 million over the next three years to help farms increase infection control practices, worker screening, and cover equipment costs under the plan.

The strategy also recommends limiting workers to one job site and increasing communication with workers about their access to health care and employment services.

The document establishes a steering committee to continue to investigate a number of key issues, including addressing housing for workers.

During the first wave of the pandemic crowded bunkhouses where many workers live together were cited as a reason why the virus spread so easily.

The strategy says the province and industry need more data on available housing stock on farms and must do more to harmonize standards across the province and access additional space before next spring.

The president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture said it will be a challenge to ensure adequate housing is secured before the next growing season.

“I don’t think we can get it all right for the spring of 2021 but we’re going to try,” Keith Currie said.

“It’s a plan towards the best case scenario. Do we need to look at renting more hotel rooms (or) keep fewer people in the same area for housing, those kinds of things.”

Currie dismissed the criticisms of the migrant worker groups, saying the temporary foreign worker program that brings them to Canadian farms has been around for 55 years and helped farmers establish relationships with employees who return to work every year.

“If you and I were treated like what the Migrant Workers Alliance is accusing us of treating workers, there’s no way in heck I’m getting on a plane and leaving my country and going to a foreign one to work,” he said. “Certainly, if anyone knows of an employer who’s not doing things right, we want to know because we want to deal with them.”

Source: Migrant worker groups critical of Ontario’s new farm outbreak plan

Federal government asks court to keep Canada-U.S. pact to prevent ‘influx of refugee claimants’


Canada would face “an influx of refugee claimants” and other “ripple effects” in the absence of a bilateral pact that stops would-be asylum seekers from making a claim here via the U.S., the federal government is warning.

This country will suffer “irreparable harm,” especially amid a global pandemic, if the Federal Court of Appeal does not suspend an earlier lower-court order that struck down the Safe Third Country Agreement, Ottawa argues.

In July, the Federal Court ruled the accord unconstitutional because the United States routinely detained asylum seekers in poor conditions. It gave Ottawa six months — until Jan. 22 — to fix the policy and make sure it complies with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms before the pact becomes invalid.

On Friday, the appeal court will hear a motion by the federal government to extend the deadline until a full appeal can be heard on a later date.

“An influx of refugee claimants will impair the sustainability of the systems that support refugee claimants while their claims are pending. Provincial and municipal governments are struggling to provide housing and social services,” the government says in its submissions.

“This unpredictability is significantly heightened by the global pandemic. Should the reopening of the border between Canada and the USA coincide with the end of the suspension period, a surge of asylum claims at the border is anticipated.”

Critics have argued the U.S. asylum system is cruel and inhumane, especially since President Donald Trump came into power in 2016 on an anti-immigrant agenda, building a wall to shut out illegal immigrants from the south and separating migrant children from their families. These critics said the Canadian government’s request should be dismissed because infringements of refugees’ rights outweigh any alleged public interest in maintaining the status quo.

“While the court gave Parliament six months to remedy the law, the government has squandered that opportunity in favour of an appeal,” said Justin Mohammed of Amnesty International Canada, one of three litigants who launched and won the constitutional challenge.

“We are hopeful that the Federal Court of Appeal will affirm the deadline, so that no refugee protection claimant will be handed over by Canada to face the horrors of U.S. immigration detention past January 2021.”

Under the bilateral agreement, Canada and the U.S. each recognize the other country as a safe place to seek protection. It lets Canada turn back potential refugees who arrive at land ports of entry along the Canada-U.S. border, on the basis that they should pursue their claims in U.S., the country where they first arrived.

In its submissions, the federal government says the agreement, in place since 2004, is in line with international refugee law to ensure claimants have access to a fair asylum process in an “orderly and efficient manner.” There are exemptions and mechanisms in place to avoid returning would-be asylum seekers to risks and danger.

While the U.S. asylum detention system may be unacceptable, it says the Canadian charter does not apply to foreign laws and processes.

“Failure to grant this stay will result in irreparable harm to the public interest, the functioning of the border, the sustainability of the Canadian asylum system and the services and resources that support claimants in Canada,” the government says.

According to Ottawa, all levels of governments are already struggling to provide services to the 56,515 asylum seekers who skirted the safe third country restrictions by crossing “irregularly” into Canada between official land ports of entry from 2017 to 2019.

“An additional influx would further strain those already stretched systems and resources,” the government cautions, adding that the surge will create further “negative ripple effects and backlogs” in the overall immigration and refugee protection scheme.

“There is a strong public interest in affording Canada control of its borders to regulate the flow of persons and goods and to ensure the orderly processing of claims between Canada and the USA.”

However, the respondents, also including the Canadian Council for Refugees and the Canadian Council of Churches, argued that the lower court’s finding is already “tantamount” to a determination that the Canada-U.S. agreement is not in the public interest.

They said the government’s assertions of irreparable harm to the asylum system and services for claimants in Canada are based not on evidence but on a series of speculative claims by officials at the immigration department and Public Safety Canada.

The pandemic has actually made the conditions worse for asylum seekers, they argue. As of Oct. 6, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reported 6,387 confirmed COVID-19 cases in custody, including eight COVID-19-related deaths of detainees.

“The appellants’ suggestion that COVID-19 makes it more difficult to predict ‘asylum intake volumes’ is misleading. While the pandemic is unprecedented, its effect on ‘asylum intake volumes’ is clear: it is dramatically suppressing the number of new refugee claims,” said the respondents in their submissions.

“It is simply harder and more dangerous to travel during the pandemic, and travel to Canada is far more restricted.”

The NDP’s immigration critic Jenny Kwan agrees.

“By appealing the court ruling, the federal Liberals are saying they’d rather let people seeking the safety of asylum here in Canada suffer under Donald Trump’s rules, than stand up for human rights and Canadian values,” said Kwan, who is also the MP for Vancouver East.

“Instead of accepting the court’s ruling and terminating the agreement, they have chosen to double down on turning back asylum seekers to a country that has a policy of separating children from their parents without any way of reuniting them,” she added. “It’s a heartless and shameful act. It’s un-Canadian.”

Source: Federal government asks court to keep Canada-U.S. pact to prevent ‘influx of refugee claimants’

Canada’s Safe 3rd Country Agreement With The U.S. Draws Criticism

NPR coverage:

Sitting relaxed at the kitchen table of her new home in a comfortable Toronto suburb, Kinda Bazerbashi recalls how differently she felt when her family lived in Houston.

Originally from Syria, she had lived in the United Arab Emirates, then arrived in the United States with her family on temporary visas and applied for asylum in 2012. Through a series of rejections and appeals, she says, they lived their lives in a legal limbo that made it hard to work, plan or travel to see scattered relatives.

“You are just like in jail, in a nice life,” she says. “There are cars. There is supermarket, but you feel, inside, you are in jail.”

By the time President Trump was elected, only a temporary protected status at the discretion of the White House kept her family from being deported back to Syria. Concerned about the president’s positions on immigration, she and her husband, Anas Almoustafa, looked to an alternative.

“From the TV,” says Almoustafa, “they [were] saying a lot of immigrants, they go to Canada.”

In March 2017, the family did what they had seen on TV and what more than 46,000 people have done since the 2016 election. They walked across the border from the U.S. to Canada, away from official entry points, and applied for asylum.

“People are crossing that way because of the safe third country agreement,” says Maureen Silcoff, president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers.

Signed in 2002, the agreement operates from the assumption that both the U.S. and Canada offer protections, so people fleeing their homes should apply for asylum in either country they arrive in first.

That kind of deal has gained renewed attention as the Trump administration presses Mexico and Guatemala to take in asylum-seekers traveling through those countries to the U.S. As America’s policies push more migrants to head across its northern border, Canadians and rights groups have challenged the agreement with the U.S.

Under the accord, people leaving the U.S. cannot apply for asylum in Canada at an official crossing point, or vice versa. Except for a few limited cases, such as if they have close family in Canada, they will be turned back to the U.S.

However, what some call a “loophole” in the agreement allows people to apply for asylum in Canada if they can arrive in the country.

“People feel hopeless about their chances of receiving protection in the United States,” Silcoff says. “That essentially drives them to cross between ports of entry.”

Most have traversed one country road on the border of upstate New York and the province of Quebec. Royal Canadian Mounted Police wait on the other side of this unofficial path to apprehend them.

The total number of migrant interceptions since 2016 still pales in comparison to 100,000 on the U.S.-Mexico border this March alone. Numbers have also trended downward this year over last. But Canadian pollster Shachi Kurl of the Angus Reid Institute says the border situation took on an outsize political importance because Canadians were unaccustomed to these types of arrivals.

“Just literally walking across an undefended border was starting to create a deep sense of unease and concern not just in right-wing voters, but it was really an issue that crossed the political spectrum,” she says.

Canada’s opposition Conservative Party has picked up this theme in its campaign to unseat Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government in federal elections this fall. In a speech in May, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer called the numbers of irregular crossings “almost hard to believe,” protesting that some migrants are able to “exploit loopholes and skip the line.”

Trudeau’s government has made a number of changes in the last two years to try to reduce the number of arrivals. The Canadian government sent representatives abroad to discourage people considering traveling to the border and to temper perceptions of the welcome they would receive.

Trudeau also created a new Cabinet-level border security minister, a position filled by former Toronto police chief Bill Blair. Earlier this year, Blair met with then-U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen about expanding the safe third country agreement so Canada could turn border-crossers back to the U.S. His office declined an interview with NPR but said the two countries have not begun official negotiations.

However, even as the U.S. pushes for similar agreements with Mexico and Guatemala to give migrants heading for the U.S. border asylum in their countries, groups like Amnesty International Canada are urging Canada to withdraw from its asylum deal.

Arguing that the U.S. does not offer equal protections for immigrants, Amnesty Canada director Alex Neve says Canada should allow people to make asylum claims at all official border crossings.

“At a time when refugees and migrants, a very vulnerable group, face this full-out attack on their rights from the U.S. government, Canada shouldn’t be turning its back on them,” Neve tells NPR.

Amnesty has joined with other organizations in a lawsuit to overturn the agreement. Hearings will begin in September.

Silcoff, the attorney, pointed out that U.S. policy changes that have, for example, closed eligibility for asylum to victims of domestic violence, whereas she noted, “They have a good chance because of our laws of receiving protection in Canada.”

Despite their rejection in the U.S., Baserbashi’s family was approved for asylum in Canada last year.

“This is the final step we hope and final move — absolutely it’s [the] final move — because we get approved, thanks God!” she says.

Her family would receive a different reception if they arrived today. The Canadian government passed one more measure this summer, tucked into a large budget bill. The provision bars people from applying for asylum in Canada if they applied previously in the United States or a handful of other countries with which Canada shares biometric data.

Those who have applied elsewhere will now enter an alternative administrative process that Silcoff says offers fewer protections.

A spokesperson for Minister Blair’s office said in an email to NPR that the change was meant to “deter people from making multiple asylum claims in different countries,” but added, “Nobody will be removed without a chance to be heard.”

Source: Canada’s Safe 3rd Country Agreement With The U.S. Draws Criticism

Canada deemed U.S. a safe country for asylum-seekers

My assumption is that the review, conducted over a year ago, is likely under continuous review given the ongoing changes in US immigration policies under the Trump administration, as suggested in the article:

Canadian immigration officials have determined that the United States remains a safe country for asylum-seekers, despite the Trump administration’s crackdown on what it terms illegal aliens.

Documents obtained by the Canadian Press under access-to-information law show Canada was concerned about the changes in U.S. immigration policy and conducted a review of its Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S. from January to March of 2017.

The review came after U.S. President Donald Trump issued a number of executive orders on immigration, including one aimed at beefing up border security to “end the abuse of parole and asylum provisions” that delay and complicate the removal of undocumented migrants to the U.S.

Canada’s analyses of these U.S. policies were redacted from the documents. However, the overall conclusion reached by Canadian officials was that the United States “continues to meet the requirements for designation as a safe third country.”

The Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the U.S. is based on the core principle that someone seeking refugee protection must file his claim in the first safe country he arrives in, unless he qualifies for one of a few exceptions.

The other core tenet is that Canada considers the United States a safe country for refugees. So, if an asylum-seeker comes to Canada at an official border crossing from the U.S. and tries to claim refugee protection, she will be refused entry and encouraged to make her claim in the U.S. — the “safe country” from which she just came.

For a country to be designated safe, it must comply with the United Nations Convention against Torture and the UN’s Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and it must maintain a good human rights record.

Internal government documents show that in 2015, Canada decided to continue monitoring its designation of the United States as a safe country. Any developments in the U.S. that could prevent it from meeting this designation — notably, any changes to policy or practices that could “significantly weaken asylum protections provided by the United States and its human rights record” — are regularly monitored, according to a briefing note prepared for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen in March 2017.

Just one month after completing one of those regular reviews in December 2016, immigration officials undertook another in the wake of Trump’s 2017 executive orders and new guidelines that were issued to U.S. border officials on how to handle asylum-seekers.

As part of this review, detailed policy-directive memos from then-U.S. secretary of homeland security John Kelly were examined.

The memos, which were sent to the heads of all U.S. agencies that deal with immigration and border security, detail strict and heavy-handed enforcement measures that were to be unleashed against asylum-seekers in the U.S., including automatic detention of migrants — whom Kelly refers to as “aliens” and “illegal aliens” — pending a final determination of whether they would be ordered for removal.

Other measures outlined in Kelly’s directive included: a surge in deployment of immigration judges and asylum officers to hasten adjudication of claims; expedited removal processes; and greater scrutiny of those who claim fear of persecution if they are returned to their home countries.

U.S. Homeland Security also suspended privacy rights for non-U.S. citizens and unlawful residents, and ordered that more data on migrants be released to the public, including a requirement to publish the number of “apprehended aliens” who are convicted criminals or gang members, and the nature of their offences.

Canada reviewed these memos and Immigration deputy minister Marta Morgan provided an analysis to Hussen. Details were redacted from the documents released to the Canadian Press.

Ultimately, Canada’s 2017 review concluded that the U.S. continued to meet the necessary requirements to be designated a safe third country.

The Canadian government has faced mounting pressure to suspend the agreement in recent months — calls that escalated over the summer amid concerns about child migrants in the U.S. being separated from their parents and held in detention facilities.

Trump ultimately reversed that policy, but it remains unclear whether ongoing developments in the U.S. have prompted any further internal reviews of the Safe Third Country Agreement.

In response to requests for comment, the immigration department says it has “carefully analyzed recent developments in the United States, including the executive orders related to immigration and refugee matters, and continues to consider the United States a safe country for asylum claimants to seek protection there.”

“Details of assessments are not shared in consideration of our bilateral relationship and the ongoing nature of our analysis,” department spokesperson Beatrice Fenelon added.

Meanwhile, internal emails also obtained through the Access to Information Act show immigration officials have continued to raise concerns about the agreement, and are closely measuring public perceptions about Canada’s irregular migrant influx.

In April of this year, following a 466 per cent increase in irregular migrants crossing irregularly into Canada over the Easter weekend compared to the same period in 2017, immigration officials began deep-diving into statistics to determine why this was happening and to decide how they should publicly respond.

One internal memo pointed to the Safe Third Country Agreement as a key culprit, noting the agreement only applies at official border entry points, which is “creating an incentive for migrants to cross our border illegally between ports of entry.”

“In 2017, Canada intercepted 21,000 migrants who crossed illegally into Canada at the Canada-U.S. land border. This trend continues in 2018 and is a significant concern for the integrity of our shared border,” the internal memo states.

Sections of this document were redacted, but it does say the agreement is “antiquated” and that “there is additional and important work that needs to be done to ensure there continues to be orderly migration within the North American perimeter.”

Source: Canada deemed U.S. a safe country for asylum-seekers

Andrew Coyne: Without the Safe Third Country Agreement, we’d soon see how liberal on refugees we really are

Good assessment of some of the implications of the Trump administration and possible suspension of the Safe Third Country Agreement:

You must understand, there is never going to be a turning point. People keep expecting, even predicting one: the dramatic “have you no decency, sir” moment when Donald Trump at long last goes too far, even for his supporters, and begins his inevitable decline and fall. But life is not a movie, and resists our attempts to impose a narrative on it.

So yes, Trump has been forced to backtrack, a little, on the most indecent of his many indecencies, the forcible separation from their mothers and fathers of migrant children — some still babies, some kept in cages, some never to see their parents again. Henceforth, by the terms of Trump’s executive order, children and parents will be detained together, indefinitely, while their cases are heard: the “zero tolerance” policy that gave rise to the crisis, mandating that all asylum-seekers who arrive by other than the usual ports of entry be imprisoned, remains in place.

But there will be no agonized reappraisal among his supporters, just because a couple of thousand kids were traumatized, any more than there was after each previous episode when people said “this time he’s gone too far.” We have seen, instead, how it works. They simply lower their standards to meet him, invent more outlandish reasons to believe what they believe — the bawling infants, Ann Coulter suggested, were “child actors,” while the cages in which they were kept, according to Laura Ingraham, were like “boarding schools” — and move on.

If he is not going to change for all the outrage he has stirred up in his own country, he is certainly not going to change because of anything we in this country might say or do. It is probably to the good that the prime minister was shamed, belatedly, into publicly criticizing the Trump administration’s approach — it was “wrong,” he said — after days of dodging, but only for our own sense of self-respect. His failure to do so until now does not make him, or us, “complicit” in Trump’s policy, since whatever he said would have had no impact on it.

Where we are potentially complicit, rather, is in the matter of those thousands of asylum seekers arriving at the Canada-U.S. border every year whom, notwithstanding our obligations under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, we turn back without a hearing. We are permitted to do so, or have permitted ourselves to do so, by the terms of the 2002 Safe Third Country Agreement, on the premise that, as each country regards the other as a safe haven for refugee claimants, so they should be required to have their case heard in whichever of the two they first arrive in. If the United States under Trump can no longer be regarded as “safe,” many argue, we are obliged, morally and perhaps legally, to suspend the agreement, at least until circumstances change.

The criticism is not new: it has been said since before the deal was even signed. Indeed, the agreement is rooted, not in the similarity of the two countries’ systems, but their differences: Canada’s more liberal, America’s markedly less so. It was we who asked for it, not they, and it was because we feared being unable to handle the tide of asylum seekers flowing north, in the unwelcoming aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, from the United States.

Still, it is one thing to return claimants to the United States of Barack Obama or even George Bush, quite another to submit them to the mercies of the Trump administration. So there may well be a case for suspending the agreement. The courts may force the government to do so in any event, whatever it might prefer.

We should understand, however, what this means. There is one reason why Canada’s treatment of those who arrive at our border unannounced tends to be more liberal than America’s: because we get relatively fewer of them. They have Mexico on their southern border; we have the United States.

But another reason we have so few is because of the Safe Third Country Agreement. In other words, our more liberal system depends in part on being able to offload so many claimants on the less liberal American system. Were we unable to do so — because we suspended the agreement, or because the Americans pulled out of it altogether — we should soon see how liberal we really were.

Even with the agreement in place, we have been dealing with an unprecedented inflow of asylum seekers, driven in part by fear of what Trump had in store for them. Indeed, until now the debate has been over whether to expand the agreement, from a handful of official ports of entry to the whole border, in a (probably futile) bid to prevent asylum seekers from crossing at irregular points.

Suspending the agreement would relieve them of that obligation — but at the cost, most probably, of greatly increasing the number of applicants arriving at the official points. For we would not only have signalled they would not be turned back. We would have publicly declared they were not safe in the United States.

The longer the resulting backlog of cases, the greater the incentive for more to apply: guaranteed a hearing, they would also be permitted to stay in Canada while they waited. Of course, they’d need to first get past the lengthening lineups at the official border crossings — meaning a good many would end up crossing illegally again.

We may still wish to suspend the agreement. But if so, we had better be prepared to spend the money needed to process the increased numbers, or we might soon find our own record for detaining claimants rivalled that of the Americans.

Source: Andrew Coyne: Without the Safe Third Country Agreement, we’d soon see how liberal on refugees we really are

It’s time to abolish the inhumane Canada-U.S. deal on asylum-seekers: Sean Rehaag

Although I am a great admirer of the work Rehaag has done with his analysis of IRB decisions and decision makers (see Refugee approval rates reflect subjectivity of decision-makers, prof says – Montreal – CBC News), his article proposing abolishing the STCA would lead to a further sharp increase in the number of asylum seekers (already controversial), further overwhelm the IRB (already overwhelmed) and undermine overall support for immigration in this country.

Evidence-based policies need to consider the operational aspects, as well as the trade-offs between overall immigration levels and classes:

The Canadian government reportedly wants the United States to close a loophole in what’s known as the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA).

The agreement allows Canada to send asylum-seekers back to the U.S. if they come to the border. But the deal only applies at official ports-of-entry, and not when asylum-seekers cross the border elsewhere — the loophole that Canada apparently wants eliminated.

Expanding the STCA to cover irregular crossings would mean that thousands of asylum-seekers would be sent back to the U.S. after making their way to the Canadian border in the wake of worsening conditions there under President Donald Trump.

The current American administration, however, is unlikely to tweak the agreement. Trump doesn’t like refugees. He has imposed travel bans on refugees selected for resettlement; attempted to block entry to asylum-seekers arriving in a “caravan” at the southern U.S. border; he’s scorned an agreement to transfer 1,250 refugees from Australian detention facilities to the U.S. as “the worst deal ever.”

The STCA has barred thousands of asylum-seekers from Canada. Prior to its implementation, approximately 10,000 asylum-seekers entered Canada via the United States each year. Some 200 went in the other direction. In this context, Trump is unlikely to expand the STCA. If anything, he’d want to cancel it outright to decrease the number of refugees in the U.S.

The STCA’s 9-11 history

It’s worth recalling the history of the STCA. Canada had long pushed for the STCA because of the lopsided flow of asylum-seekers, but the U.S. refused for years. After the 9-11 attacks, when border security was of utmost concern, Canada essentially pulled a fast one by offering enhanced information-sharing and common border security measures in exchange for the STCA.

However, Canada would have agreed to these measures regardless because disruption to the cross-border flows of goods and services hurts Canada’s economy. In essence, Canada got the STCA for nothing.

In the Trumpian world view, this is another “worst deal ever,” and it fits into his claim that “very smooth” Canada has “taken advantage” of the U.S. for years.

If the United States isn’t likely to agree to expand the STCA, what is going on here?

Simple. This is crass political theatre.

‘Beating up on refugees’

The ruling Liberals are facing attacks by the opposition Conservatives who have returned to beating up on refugees as a show of “toughness.” In response to growing numbers of asylum-seekers irregularly crossing the Canada-U.S. border, the Liberals must be seen to be taking action, even if that action is futile.

Still, something meaningful needs to be done.

One could debate whether the agreement was ever good policy. There’s a Constitutional challenge under way about whether it’s even lawful. But, regardless, it’s clearly not working now.

The more asylum-seekers resort to irregular crossings to circumvent the STCA, the more these sites are normalized as unofficial crossings. The longer this goes on, the less effective the STCA will be at deterring future asylum-seekers from coming to Canada via the U.S.

At the same time, if specific unofficial crossings are blocked off, asylum-seekers will simply move to other, more dangerous crossings. Every country that has built barriers has seen asylum-seekers driven to increasingly desperate and dangerous measures.

Alan Kurdi — the child whose death en route to seeking asylum in the European Union sparked Canada’s most recent refugee resettlement program — and the thousands of migrants who have died trying to evade ever-increasing surveillance at the U.S.-Mexico border are stark examples of this tragic phenomenon.

In other words, if Canada blocks places like Roxham Road on the Québec/New York state border, refugees will cross remote fields in Manitoba during snowstorms. Asylum-seekers take these kinds of risks on a daily basis around the world.

If expanding the agreement is not viable, if erecting barriers is terrible policy, and if the status quo is not working — what can be done?

Also simple.

Do away with the STCA

It’s time for Canada to suspend the STCA. Asylum-seekers should be able to make refugee claims at regular ports-of-entry. At the same time, the government should calibrate funding and staffing levels for the Immigration and Refugee Board to the number of claims in the system.

This would ensure that people who meet the refugee definition are recognized in a timely manner and put on the path to successful settlement, while those who do not need Canada’s protection can quickly be removed. And it’s worth a reminder: Most are likely to meet the legal test to stay.

Suspending the STCA is not a radical proposal. Asylum-seekers made claims at the Canada-U.S. border for decades pre-STCA and the system worked fine.

Suspending the STCA will not harm Canada’s relationship with the U.S., or the ongoing NAFTA negotiations. The Americans would happily discard the STCA.

Suspending the STCA is also politically viable. It will not end Conservative opposition attacks. But rather than defending inaction on so-called “illegal” border crossings, the Liberals can instead punch back and say that they respect international refugee law.

They can ask whether the Conservatives want Canada to deport refugees — and how that squares with the lessons that Canada was supposed to have learned from the days of none is too many, when Canada had one of the worst records among Western countries of providing refuge for European Jews fleeing the Holocaust. They can ask whether the Conservatives care about the tragic deaths of Alan Kurdi and thousands of other desperate asylum-seekers around the world.

Most importantly, by suspending the STCA, Canada can show that there is an alternative to the xenophobic extreme-right policies taking parts of the world by storm.

Instead of building walls, we can adopt evidence-based policies that comply with international law and that make our country a better place for everyone. And we can show that the sky will not fall if Canada hosts a few thousand more people who face persecution, torture and even death.

If not now, when?

via It’s time to abolish the inhumane Canada-U.S. deal on asylum-seekers

Canada in ‘exploratory’ talks with U.S. over border agreement on asylum seekers

Appropriate and needed given that any workable solution requires working with the US:

Canada is in high-level exploratory talks with the United States over a border agreement to manage asylum seekers, but will not say whether Ottawa wants the power to automatically turn away thousands of refugee claimants who walk across the border.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security confirmed it is reviewing a Canadian proposal to amend the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA), which requires Canada and the United States to refuse entry to asylum seekers who arrive at official ports of entry along the shared border, as both countries are considered safe for refugees. However, senior Canadian cabinet ministers insisted they have not entered into formal negotiations with the United States.

“It’s a discussion that we’re having with the Americans about the various techniques that could be pursued on both sides of the border to ensure security and integrity,” Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said on Tuesday. “If and when that conversation matures into a specific negotiation, we’ll have further things to say about it. But this is very exploratory at the moment – scoping issues and potential solutions.”

Concerns over the agreement, which was signed in 2004, surfaced last year when thousands of asylum seekers fled the United States for Canada on foot, fearing deportation under President Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown. Since the agreement applies only to those who arrive at official ports of entry, asylum seekers can avoid being immediately turned away by crossing between border posts, forcing Canada to process most of their claims.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen did not confirm a Reuters report on Tuesday that the government wants the agreement to apply to the entire Canada-U.S. border. Mr. Hussen said Ottawa is in regular contact with the United States about the agreement, but declined to get into details.

“As you can appreciate, we constantly talk about all aspects of the border, including the Safe Third Country Agreement,” Mr. Hussen said. “Those are discussions that are ongoing, so I can’t take a snapshot in time and give you what was discussed on a particular day.”

The RCMP intercepted more than 20,000 asylum claimants in 2017, 91 per cent of whom crossed in Quebec. Many entered at Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle after taking taxis along upstate New York’s Roxham Road.

The Mounties intercepted more than 5,000 asylum claimants in the first three months of 2018 – again, mostly in Quebec.

The Conservatives have urged the government to close the loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement that allows asylum seekers to enter Canada at unofficial border crossings. Last week, the Tories tabled a motion in the House of Commons calling on the Liberals to table a plan by May 11.

“Last week, Justin Trudeau voted against taking immediate action and tabling a plan to manage our borders and immigration system,” Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel said in a statement on Tuesday. “Conservatives will continue to hold the Prime Minister accountable, and call for the entire Canada-U.S. border to be designated as an official port of entry.”

Mr. Goodale said the Conservative proposal is “impractical,” as it would “change the entire concept about what the border means” and “increase insecurity at the border.”

As the Liberals iron out their approach to STCA talks with the United States, they are touting their efforts to prevent more asylum seekers from crossing into Canada. For instance, Mr. Hussen said many of those crossing into Quebec earlier this year were Nigerians carrying valid U.S. visitor visas. Canadian officials raised the issue with their U.S. counterparts, and the number of U.S. visas issued to Nigerians dropped.

via Canada in ‘exploratory’ talks with U.S. over border agreement on asylum seekers – The Globe and Mail

The contrary view, to this being a crisis, can be seen in Senator Omidvar’s op-ed in The Star:

Let’s be honest. The common thread of today’s populism is anti-immigration. This populism legitimizes xenophobia and encourage the separation of people into “us” and “them”. It creates a politics that sees the other not simply as different, but as different and therefor dangerous. Adversaries become enemies.

Populism prevents an energetic engagement with diversity. It erects barriers — whether literally or figuratively — that stand at odds with the reality of an increasingly interconnected — and interdependent — world.

Populism can undermine the basic underpinnings of a democracy. If we have learned anything from south of the border it is how norms that were once considered absolute can quickly become obsolete. How things that were once unimaginable can soon become unexceptional.

So how do we respond? First, words matter. We need to watch how we talk about legitimate issues around asylum seekers and our borders. We can’t whip up fear and division.

Second, we can’t use this as political football. No party should use immigration as a wedge issue. We deserve better than that.

Finally, we need to recognize the fact that when it comes to immigration, we’ve done a lot right. We’ve devised smart policies with high levels of skilled immigrants and we help people that are fleeing some of the most wretched situations around the globe. We do a very good job of integrating them. And while we’re far from perfect, we bring a lot to the table.

However, an area that needs attention is the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB). Although the recent budget increased funding for the IRB more is needed. Money is needed to process asylum claims efficiently as well as deal with a growing backlog. Continuing to build this “good governance” structure will go a long way to maintaining public trust in the system.

Canada still has work to do, but we have a strong foundation on which to build.

via Asylum seekers are not causing a crisis for Canada | The Star

Canada welcomes refugees, but shuts the door on asylum seekers: Vic Satzewich

A reminder to those critical from the right of the Liberal government’s approach of the alternative critique from the left, suggesting that the Liberals remain in the centre:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen sound a lot like former Conservative Immigration Minister Jason Kenney these days when it comes to immigration. Last Friday the Prime Minister said, “Protecting Canadians’ confidence in the integrity of our system allows us to continue to be open, and that’s exactly what I plan to continue to do.” Over the weekend, both the Prime Minister and the Immigration Minister counselled Haitians thinking about crossing the U.S. border into Canada to stay where they are and make their refugee claim in the United States. Many of Mr. Kenney’s public comments about changes to the immigration system introduced under his watch were also peppered with references to the need to maintain the integrity of, and public confidence in, the immigration system.

Maintaining the “integrity of the immigration system” is in part the shared code language for how our governments (Conservative or Liberal) think about asylum seekers. Canada may love refugees like Syrians who are selected and screened abroad before they set foot in the country, but the same cannot be said about asylum seekers who wash up on our shores in boats, or who walk across our border with the U.S.

Canada’s approach to asylum seekers pokes holes in the image of the country as inherently welcoming to immigrants and refugees. The fear and panic Canadians expressed about the arrival of 174 Sikhs off the coast of Nova Scotia in 1987, the arrival of “ghost ships” from Fujian, China in 1999, and 492 Tamils aboard the MV Sun Sea in 2010, bear little resemblance to Mr. Trudeau’s tweet in January where he told the world that, “To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians will welcome you.” Indeed, a 2015 Environics poll found that nearly half of Canadians believe that refugees coming to Canada do not have a legitimate claim.

Though the policy climate in the United States toward immigrants and refugees is changing for the worse, I am not optimistic that the Liberals will do much to make it easier for Haitians and others to make a refugee claim in Canada.

The immigration department is obsessed – and this is not too strong a word – with preventing the arrival in Canada of “jumpers” (their shorthand for “queue jumpers.”) One of the responsibilities of a visa officer is to try to predict whether a person who applies for a visitor visa will make an asylum claim after they arrive. If they think a person might “jump,” they can refuse to issue a visa. Even though making an asylum claim in Canada is not illegal, Canadian authorities dislike it when individuals use the visitor visa system to get to Canada to make a refugee claim.

Nor am I optimistic that the Liberals will rescind the Safe Third Country Agreement. Doing so would be a slap in the face to American authorities because it would send a very clear message that Canada does not have confidence that U.S. authorities can deal fairly with asylum claims. Some might say that with the current chaos in the White House, the U.S. will not notice, but at a time when there are heightened tensions about immigration in that country, you bet they will. I also doubt whether the Liberals are going to want to muddy the waters as we renegotiate NAFTA.

Nor is the government likely to close the “loophole” in the Safe Third Country Agreement that allows individuals to make an asylum claim if they cross into Canada outside of an official port of entry. To do so would involve an unprecedented militarization of the Canadian border and most Canadians are not ready to see the spectacle of the RCMP or CBSA officials physically preventing asylum seekers from crossing into Canada. We would look a lot like Hungary and its approach to preventing the arrival of asylum seekers.

The government of Canada has benefited more from the Safe Third Country Agreement than the United States. The two countries entered into the agreement for different reasons. For the U.S., it was part of a post-9/11 effort to enhance security. For Canada, it was an effort to stop asylum seekers from entering from the United States. One study found that before the Safe Third Country Agreement was put into effect, between 8,000 and 13,000 refugee claimants entered Canada annually from the United States. During the same period (1995-2001), only about 200 refugee claimants entered the United States from Canada.

The sad reality is that Canada’s welcoming approach to immigrants and refugees comes at the expense of asylum seekers.

Source: Canada welcomes refugees, but shuts the door on asylum seekers – The Globe and Mail

El Salvador woman at the heart of legal challenge to Safe Third Country Agreement

Interesting case to watch given that it centres around a person rather than the previous more general one:

When an El Salvador woman and her two children arrived from a Buffalo, N.Y., shelter to the Fort Erie border crossing Wednesday, seeking to make a refugee claim in Canada, a team of lawyers from Toronto’s Downtown Legal Services was on high alert. They had U of T law students waiting and watching to report back from the border.

As soon as the woman — identified only as “ABC” in court documents — was denied entry under the Safe Third Country Agreement, the legal team filed a Federal Court challenge to the agreement, which they had been working on for months.

The agreement requires refugees to request protection in the first safe country they arrive in. Refugees crossing from the U.S. at official border crossings are usually denied entry into Canada. That’s part of the reason why so many risk sometimes dangerous illegal border crossings to make a refugee claim once already in the country — a legal loophole that’s permitted.

This is the second legal challenge to the agreement but the first with a person at its core.

“I feel happy and nervous and I am very thankful the lawyers are helping,” said ABC through a translator, when CBC News met her in a Toronto home on Thursday. “Canada is more humane than the U.S. In the U.S. it’s not safe, and I was worried about being sent back to El Salvador.”

Fear of gangs in El Salvador

Justice Ann Marie McDonald granted the woman a stay to live in Canada while her case is being considered. McDonald said there was clear and non-speculative evidence that she would suffer irreparable harm if she were to return to the U.S. and could even be sent back to El Salvador.

ABC’s lawyer, Prasanna Balasundaram, said that some of the strongest legal arguments in this case are based on charter rights. She is facing removal procedures in the U.S., and gender-based asylum claims in the U.S. have inconsistent results. He said that ABC has lasting psychological effects from persecution in El Salvador.

“Her family is the subject of gang violence in El Salvador,” said Balasundaram.

“I dream that all my family is together after all these years and that we don’t have to go home because of the gangs,” said ABC.

….Ottawa says U.S. safe for refugees

A spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said in an email to CBC News this week that “Canada has carefully analyzed recent developments in the United States, including the executive orders related to immigration and refugee matters, and determined that the U.S. remains a safe country for asylum claimants to seek protection there.”

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen has said there is no need to “tinker with” the Safe Third Country Agreement. This pending Federal Court challenge was brought to his attention before ABC even attempted to cross the border.

There may not be political will to challenge the U.S. over this right now, but the courts will have a say.

“I believe now it will be determined on a legal basis and not on the political climate,” said Balasundaram, who calls this a crucial first step — and only a first step — in what could take many months to a year to see through.

Toronto immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman represented Amnesty International in a 2005 court challenge to the Safe Third Country Agreement, which won in Federal Court but lost on appeal.

“It is not going to be easy to challenge,” said Waldman. “I would bet the government would not want this case to go ahead.”

In the previous case the court did not consider it a charter challenge, and there was not an individual such as ABC with a strong argument to make.

“I think the case will be heard,” said Waldman. “Its likelihood of success will depend on the evidence.”

Source: El Salvador woman at the heart of legal challenge to Safe Third Country Agreement – Canada – CBC News

Groups ask Federal Court to strike down Safe Third Country deal with the U.S. – Politics – CBC News

Not entirely unexpected. Court case may as much to raise the political profile as expected a ruling in their favour:

A legal challenge is being launched against the Canada-U.S. agreement that governs where people can make asylum claims on either side of the border.

Three advocacy groups are throwing their support behind a woman being named only as “E” in asking the Federal Court to strike down the so-called Safe Third Country Agreement.

Under the deal, most people who make an asylum claim at the land border are denied entry; as a result, there’s been an influx of people crossing illegally into Canada in recent months to file asylum claims.

The Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnesty International and the Canadian Council of Churches are among the many groups urging Canada to suspend the arrangement following major changes to U.S. immigration and refugee policy since the election of President Donald Trump.

But now they’re asking the Federal Court to step in, arguing that sending claimants back to the U.S. is morally and legally wrong because it risks violating their basic rights.

The litigant in the case is described as a Salvadoran woman who fled after being targeted by a gang and who believes she won’t be protected in the U.S.

It’s not the first time the deal has been tested in court.

A legal challenge was mounted after it came into force in 2004, and while the Federal Court at the time agreed the U.S. may not be safe for all refugees, the decision was overturned on appeal.

Ensuring ‘human dignity’

“Our organizations have pressed repeatedly, expecting that Canada would move to suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement as regard for the rights of refugees has rapidly plummeted under the Trump administration,” said Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada in a statement.

“To our astonishment and disappointment, however, the Canadian government continues to maintain that the U.S. asylum system qualifies as safe. We are left with no choice but to turn to the courts to protect refugee rights.”

Despite the deal, there are people showing up at the land border and getting through based on the exemptions that exist, including having family already in Canada.

Data obtained under the Access to Information Act showed that over a six-day period in March, 123 people showed up at legal entry points along the border and requested asylum; 66 were judged eligible and 57 turned away.

But Canada needs to go further, Rev. Karen Hamilton, general secretary of The Canadian Council of Churches, said in a statement.

“The government of Canada has a responsibility to ensure that the human dignity of all persons is respected. So it is imperative that all who seek refuge in Canada are afforded the protections guaranteed to them under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and international human rights treaties.”

A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said the government’s position on the agreement has not changed, and the deal remains in force

The federal Liberals have said they believe the deal does not need to be suspended or altered, as the asylum system in the United States is still functioning.

Source: Groups ask Federal Court to strike down Safe Third Country deal with the U.S. – Politics – CBC News