A Welcome Mat For Murderers

A welcome mat for murderers

A new Canada-U.S. agreement on refugees threatens the safety of Canadians, says James Bissett.

Citizen Special, Thursday, December 05, 2002

by James Bissett

Picture caption: Keeping the Taps Running: The agreement with the U.S. will not stop the flow of illegal refugees into Canada, such as these Chinese stowaways.

The Safe Third Country Agreement that Canada and the United States are set to sign today has been heralded as a major step forward in managing refugee flows, combating terrorism and enhancing security for both countries. That's nonsense.

The agreement recognizes the United States as a “safe” country for refugees and will prevent some categories of refugee claimants in the U.S. from applying for refugee status here in Canada. But the agreement is deeply flawed and will do little to help manage the flow of refugee claimants or improve the security of either country. More seriously, the regulations that have been drafted to give force to the agreement are a direct threat to the safety and security of Canadians.

The agreement only applies to people who arrive at a land border crossing. Those who enter by sea or air or come as visitors and later submit a refugee claim will still be allowed to do so. Also, anyone who slips across the border illegally will be allowed to make a claim. Inevitably, this will encourage people to enter Canada clandestinely and be rewarded for their illegal entry.

The agreement will allow people with relatives in Canada to make a refugee claim regardless of where they enter. The list of eligible relatives is long and includes non-dependants such as brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, grandparents and grandchildren. The relative here wouldn't even have to be a citizen or a legal resident, as even refugee claimants would qualify. This discriminates against Canadian citizens and permanent residents who are only entitled to sponsor dependent members of their family. And unlike sponsored immigrants, the claimants under the Safe Third Country Agreement will be allowed immediate entry without having to prove their identity or wait for medical, criminal or security checks.

Canadian officials say our negotiators wanted to be “expansive” when defining “family” in the agreement, but this is dishonest. The broad range of relatives was included in the agreement not because of a Canadian initiative, but because the U.S. demanded it. Many people entering Canada from the United States have relatives here and have been using the asylum route as a way to avoid our immigration rules.

The U.S. did not want to be stuck with large numbers of bogus refugees once the agreement was signed and the claimants could be sent back to the United States.

The agreement also permits children under 18 years of age to make a refugee claim at the border. One can only assume Canadian negotiators don't consider the U.S. to be a safe country for minor children, as no reason has been given for this provision.

Either the United States is safe for refugees, or it is not. This determination should not be made based on where or how a refugee claimant enters Canada from the U.S., or the age of the claimant.

Meanwhile, Immigration Minister Denis Coderre has admitted that the agreement also means Canada will accept as refugees up to 200 Haitians detained by the United States in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The minister says this was at the request of the U.S., but he has not explained why this would be included in a safe-third-country agreement.

Not everything in the agreement was requested by the United States, however. By the time the House of Commons immigration committee discussed the agreement last month, Canada had gratuitously added some exceptions to the implementing regulations that had not been part of the original agreement.

One exception deals with claim-ants from any country to which Canada will not deport people under a stay of removal issued by the immigration minister. Canada's concern seemed to be that if the U.S. found the claimants not to be genuine refugees, they might be sent back to their own country. So now Canada will let them in, even if our refugee board shares the U.S. view that they are not genuine refugees.

More devastating for Canadians, however, is an exemption that would permit refugee claimants to enter Canada if they have been charged with, or convicted of, an offence punishable by death in the United States or any other country. As a result, just about any murderer or terrorist from around the world will be given a warm welcome in Canada. This conflicts directly with the Immigration Act and the United Nations Convention on Refugees, both of which prohibit serious criminals from applying for refugee status.

The Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement makes a mockery of the law, the UN Convention on Refugees and common sense. It should be scrapped immediately.

James Bissett is a former Canadian ambassador who headed Canada's immigration service from 1985 to 1990.