Supreme Court upholds agreement that lets Canada send refugees back to the U.S.

Top court finds migrant agreement with U.S. does not violate part of the Charter

In an unanimous decision, the top court ruled Friday that the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) between Canada and the United States is constitutional, at least in part — a legal victory for the federal government as it sought to continue the practice of returning refugees who have tried to cross into this country from the U.S.

The STCA, a bilateral deal first signed in 2004, recognizes both Canada and the U.S. as safe countries for migrants and states that refugee claimants are required to request asylum in the first country where they arrive.

Under this agreement, refugee claimants arriving at an official land port of entry to Canada from the U.S. are deemed ineligible for refugee protection.

Refugee advocacy groups have argued in court that the policy is unconstitutional.

They said deeming the U.S. a safe country violates Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms — which protects an individual’s right to life, liberty and security of the person — because officers indiscriminately return refugees to the U.S. without considering a claimant’s safety and the state of U.S. detention facilities.

The refugee advocacy groups told the top court in an October hearing that claimants who are returned to the U.S. are automatically detained, treated poorly and sometimes face deportation.

Justice Nicholas Kasirer, writing for the court, dismissed the appeal and the Section 7 claims, saying there are safety valvesin the agreement that are sufficient to ensure that no deprivations contrary to the principles of fundamental justice occur.

However, the court signalled it may be sympathetic to refugee groups that claim the policy is a violation of Section 15 of the Charter, the section that guarantees equality under the law.

Refugee groups had argued the U.S. often denies refugee claims that cite gender-based violence as the reason for a claim.

Kasirer ordered the case back to Federal Court for a review of the policy in light of equality concerns.

The Federal Court initially agreed with the refugee groups — finding the deal unconstitutional.

The government appealed that ruling to the Federal Court of Appeal who then reversed course, allowing the deal to stand. That prompted refugee groups to take the case to Canada’s final court of appeal, which decided Friday that the existing agreement can be tolerated.

John Paul Tasker (new window) · CBC News

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