Refugee Deal Back In Place

Refugee deal with U.S. back in force
Asylum-seekers at border will continue to be rejected until `Safe Third Country' pact reviewed

Feb 01, 2008 04:30 AM
Nicholas Keung
The Toronto Star

Refugees hoping to seek protection in Canada from the U.S. will continue to be turned back at land borders until the Federal Court of Appeal decides if the United States can be deemed a safe place for asylum-seekers.

A court of appeal decision yesterday came a day before a controversial refugee pact between Canada and the U.S. was to be overturned in accordance with a previous order by Canadian federal Justice Michael Phelan.

The 2004 Safe Third Country Agreement denies refugees who landed first in the U.S. the right to file claims in Canada and vice versa and that Canada and the U.S. recognize each other as safe places to seek protection.

“I do not accept the (refugee advocates') contention that the presumption that the Safe Third Country Agreement regulations are in the public interest has been displaced by the judgment of the Federal Court,” Appeal Court Chief Justice John Richard wrote in the 21-page decision.

“This judgment is under appeal and the presumption of public interest remains pending complete constitutional review.”

Richard also said the Canadian Council for Refugees, Canadian Council of Churches and Amnesty International, who brought forward the legal challenge against the agreement, would not suffer personal harm from the stay.

“We are extremely disappointed and shocked that the court ruled that the lives of refugees count for nothing and it prefers to accommodate the convenience of the government instead of protect the lives of refugees,” noted Janet Dench, executive director of the refugee council.

“While we're waiting for the government appeal (against the Phelan court order), asylum-seekers will continue to be turned away, tortured and killed.”

In a November court decision, Justice Phelan ruled the U.S. did not comply with the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees or the Convention Against Torture, and its treatment of asylum-seekers raised concerns of its designation as “safe” for refugees.

In its stay application this week, Ottawa argued that ending the agreement suddenly would lead to a flood of people claiming asylum at land borders from the U.S., placing undue pressure on Canada's social and refugee systems.

Dench said the parties will consider asking the Supreme Court of Canada to quash yesterday's decision and immediately reinstate the suspension of the agreement.