April 24, 2023
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CANADALAND
#878 Escaping America
Canada’s recent decision to close unofficial border crossings, such as Roxham Road, doubles down on the idea that migrants seeking asylum are just as safe in the US as they are in Canada. But there’s a body of evidence saying it’s not — and that’s been clear for decades.
Jesse Brown
Host & Publisher
Cherise Seucharan
Reporter, CANADALAND
Tristan Capacchione
Audio Editor & Technical Producer
Jonathan Goldsbie
News Editor

The recent expansion of the Safe Third Country Agreement — which started as a 9/11 era deal that Canada negotiated in order to exert more control over immigration levels — prohibits asylum seekers from entering at unofficial ports of entry. 

The agreement allows Canada to share responsibility for asylum seekers with the US, because the US is “safe” for refugees.

But there are years of documented evidence suggesting the US is not actually safe, including two Supreme Court rulings, reports from international human rights organizations, and data on the detainment and deportation of asylum seekers. 

So why have we ignored it? 

 

Host: Jesse Brown

Credits: Cherise Seucharan (Reporter), Tristan Capacchione (Audio Editor and Technical Producer), Annette Ejiofor (Managing Editor)

 

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Transcript

Canadaland’s transcripts are edited to the best of our ability to ensure accuracy from audio to text. Please contact editor@canadaland.com should you have a correction. 

Intro:

(Intro music plays)

Jesse Brown: This is how it’s supposed to work. There are safe countries and unsafe countries. And if you’re from an unsafe country, then your dream is supposed to be to get your ass to a safe country.

And when you do, there is a system for you. A system that’s supposed to go like this. Country, number one. That’s the one that you fled. That’s the unsafe one. Lucky you, you then set foot in country number two, your second country, a safe country. And that is where you have to plead your case, try to get papers, refugee status, whatever.

And if for whatever reason that doesn’t work out for you, you’re done. Go back to country number one. You do not get to shop around to see if things might go better for you elsewhere. Us safe countries are united on that. That’s why we have the Safe Third Country Agreement, which is an agreement that Canada signed with the United States to share responsibility for asylum seekers.

Under this agreement, which came into effect in 2004, people seeking asylum must make their claim in the first safe country they enter. Those safe countries being the United States and Canada. That means for most refugees travelling north by land from Latin America, the U.S. is the only safe choice. But what if it isn’t? Safe, that is. And what if Canada knew that the United States, our closest ally and our biggest trading partner, our military defender- what if we knew that it is actually an unsafe place to send migrants to? But we kept doing it anyhow.

When U.S. President Joseph Biden visited Canada last month, he and Justin Trudeau expanded the Safe Third Country Agreement, closing the so-called irregular border crossings like Roxham Road and ensuring that many, many more asylum seekers who set foot in Canada from the U.S. will now be handed back to America.

And what Prime Minister Trudeau knew when he signed that expansion is that in America those people will face a higher likelihood of detention, of human trafficking and assault, than if we let them stay here. In other words, he knew that America isn’t safe. But, you know, how exactly would he bring that up and what will it mean if Canadian courts force the prime minister’s hand ruling that the United States has no place on a list of safe countries? As it turns out, that’s been happening.

Reporter Cherise Seucharan is here in a moment with the evidence, some of which the Canadian Supreme Court is weighing right now. It goes back a while. Wait for it.

(Intro music plays)

Jesse Brown: This episode is brought to you by Nathan Garber, Kristian Ludwig, Nadia Bragagnolo, Josh Gallant, Deb Girvin, Erin Schowalter, Martin Settle and Ian.

Ian (Canadaland Supporter): Hi, I’m Ian, a tech worker living in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. I started supporting Canadaland because I wanted the socks you had on promo a couple of years ago, and I continue to support the network because of the team’s creativity and experimenting with new shows and formats. The great investigative journalism on Commons. And to hear the sweet, sweet sound of Emilie Nicholas keeping Jesse in check.

(Patron sting plays)

President Joe Biden: Through more than a century of that historic endeavour. Canada and the United States have had each other’s backs in war and in peace. We have been the stronghold of liberty safeguard for the fundamental freedoms that literally give our lives meaning. Today, our destinies are intertwined not because of the inevitability of geography, but because it’s a choice, a choice we’ve made again and again. The United States chooses to link our future with Canada because we know that we’ll find no better partner. And I mean this from the bottom of my heart. No more reliable ally, no more steady friend. And today I say to you and to all the people of Canada that you will always, always be able to count on the United States of America. I guarantee. 

(Applause)

Cherise Seucharan: That’s U.S. President Joe Biden speaking last month in the House of Commons during his first official visit to Canada. During the visit, one theme kept coming up. The long and enduring friendship between Canada and the U.S. Canada is a partner with the U.S. in countless accords and agreements. NORAD, NATO, Five Eyes, CUSMA. The list goes on. From the outside, it appears that Canada and the U.S. have so much in common. Both wealthy first-world countries, both liberal democracies, both safe countries. And last month, during Biden’s visit to Ottawa, Prime Minister Trudeau announced yet another agreement was to be expanded. The Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA).

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: Keeping people safe also includes keeping asylum seekers safe. This is why we will now apply the Safe Third Country Agreement to asylum seekers who cross between official points of entry after midnight tonight. Police and border officers will enforce the agreement and return irregular border crossers to the closest port of entry with the United States.

Cherise Seucharan: According to the Safe Third Country Agreement, which was signed in 2002, an asylum seeker must make their claim at the first country they land in, either Canada or the U.S. Both countries mutually designate each other as safe countries for which to seek refuge. In essence, there would be no difference between the two countries when making a claim. The expansion of this agreement, which took effect in March, closes access points along the border, like at Roxham Road. These points are not classified as official ports of entry, so they allow thousands of asylum seekers to bypass the U.S. immigration system and instead make their claim in Canada. And the idea that Canada is a safer or more desirable place for asylum seekers might be a bit confusing to some Americans. This is from CBS News in their coverage of the Biden visit-

CBS Newscaster: So speaking of immigration and border security, this was actually quite surprising to me. I had to Google this because I said that’s not accurate. I mean, how many people are really crossing the border into Canada? It turns out there has been a substantial uptick in people crossing the border from the U.S. into Canada.

Cherise Seucharan: Last year, 40,000 people crossed over into Canada from the U.S. through these irregular border crossings. And this crossing isn’t illegal, or at least it wasn’t until last month. And lately, there’s been a lot of news coverage about how people make this journey, usually taking a taxi or a bus to the U.S.-Canada border and then stealthily walking their way across, sometimes in harsh weather conditions. Some have lost extremities to frostbite on the journey over. Some have died.

And the idea they’re doing this challenges the fundamental idea in the Safe Third Country Agreement and in the Canada-U.S. relationship overall, the idea that the U.S. is a safe place. And it’s not just asylum seekers who are saying this. I have spoken to immigration experts who say that it’s been made abundantly clear that the U.S. does not have the same level of safety for migrants as Canada does. And they say Canada has known about this long before the STCA was ever enacted. They point to a fundamental flaw in the Canada-U.S. relationship, where Canada has turned a blind eye to the documented human rights violations we continue to send asylum seekers back to face. But let’s back up a little.

(Plucky xylophone music starts)

Before Trudeau announced the decision to expand the Safe Country Agreement or STCA. The pressure to address irregular border crossings like the one at Roxham Road had been increasing. The number of people coming through Quebec had nearly doubled since 2019. Critics said it put pressure on police and social services and showed Canada’s lack of control over its own asylum system.

CBC Newscaster: This week, Justin Trudeau is facing more pressure to shut it down.

Pierre Poilievre: It is his job to close the border, and we’re calling him to do it at the Roxham Road passage within 30 days.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: If Pierre Poilievre wants to build a wall at Roxham Road, someone could do that. The problem is we have 6000 km worth of undefended shared border with the United States.

CBC Newscaster: Trudeau has provincial critics as well. Quebec’s premier wants Ottawa to ensure future migrants go to other provinces.

Cherise Seucharan: The decision to expand STCA and close these crossings was announced and it was met with criticism from immigration advocates, lawyers and activists who said the move would make it much more difficult for asylum seekers to get a fair chance. But others were pleased about the decision, like Quebec Premier Francois Legault.

Montreal Gazette Reporter: What are your thoughts on Roxham Road closing? Are you satisfied?

Premiere François Legault: Yeah, I’m very happy. I think that that’s what we were asking for. I think that we were able to put enough pressure on the federal government and I want to thank Mr. Trudeau and the Federal Government. I want to thank President Biden also. I’m happy to see that relations between Canada and the U.S. are good.

Cherise Seucharan: The idea that the STCA is an important part of Canada’s immigration system and a key part of the Canada-U.S. relationship is a bit new because the reality is that the STCA was something kind of wanted based on a desire to exert more control over immigration levels and because it mostly benefits Canada. We had to negotiate for it. In a recent CTV News interview, former Deputy Prime Minister John Manley describes how Canada fought to make a deal with the U.S. in 2002. 

CTV Clip: What was at the heart of it? What was the motivation really to create the agreement in a post-9/11 world?

Deputy Prime Minister Jon Manley: The safe third agreement was something that we were asking for that the U.S. was actually reluctant to give. We asked for it because we were facing quite a large inflow of refugee claimants. I can tell you that this was a very difficult agreement to achieve. They didn’t want to do it. There were things, of course, that we gave in exchange for it.

Cherise Seucharan: Denis Coderre, who was the Minister of Immigration and Citizenship at the time, said the agreement, quote, “addresses a fundamental concern about asylum shopping for economic advantage.”

These days, the idea of asylum shopping is no longer a big part of the immigration discourse. But stopping the high numbers at the border is the only problem is in order to maintain and expand the safe Third Country Agreement, Canada needs to ignore mounting evidence that challenges the idea that our neighbour is, in fact safe. And I’ll get to that research in a bit. But first, I want you to meet someone.

(Plunky xylophone music concludes)

I’ll refer to him as Cruz to protect his identity. He grew up in Honduras, where he married his childhood sweetheart and had a couple kids. But there he was, worried for his family’s safety. Gang violence forced him to make the choice to leave Honduras in search of a safe place to raise his family.

Cruz: Honduras is a really nice country, but the meantime is not safe for some people. I used to have my own business and I get kind of extortions and it was not safe to live for myself and other family members.

Cherise Seucharan: In 2017, he started the journey that would end at an irregular crossing in Canada. He and some friends decided they couldn’t risk claiming asylum at a port of entry in the U.S. and ending up deported or in detention. So they decided to make the five-day journey walking from Mexico across the desert into the U.S.

Cruz: And then when I crossed the border from Mexico to the U.S. at daytime nighttime, we walk ten days straight up. We only rest a little bit and then we continue. But and the fifth day we ran out of our groceries, so we ended up getting water from any farms we have to get water from the any like a little river, creek. Where ever we find water we drink and we see like a the green water, like really not clean water. Maybe the horse or the cows drink the water. But that’s the that’s what we drink too, because we have nothing to eat or nothing to drink.

That’s why it takes a long time, because every time we saw the helicopter, every time we heard noises from cars driving by or we saw any border patrol from far away, we have to stop and let them go.

(Moody low-tempo music starts)

Cherise Seucharan: Cruz said he never wanted to turn back, fearing detention, deportation or even worse.

Cruz: At the U.S. That’s the main issue. When you process, you have to be in the detention center. Many people spend months and sometimes years to get clear, or either they accept it or they send you back home.

It was either I… I die trying to get to the to the what I want to come or either I die if I get deported in my country. So I got two choices: either die in my country because that unsafe area or I die in the desert at the moment. So I prefer to continue and see how far I can get.

Cherise Seucharan: The journey across the U.S. took two weeks where he relied on hitchhiking and panhandling money for bus tickets. Finally, he made it to Washington State and the Canada-U.S. border.

(Moody low tempo music concludes)

Cruz remembers the day he first set foot in Canada. 

Cruz: When I get to Peace Arch, I get to one of the main roads. I ask one of the guys, uh, it was, uh, near to the road and I asked him like, hey, um, excuse me where I am?
And then he says, What do you mean where? Where are you? He says, You’re in Canada, man. You’re in Canada now. So I asked him, where’s the bus station? So he put a finger to me. He says, You you have some change, you go on some loonies. And he said, Yes. So he gave me some money, some loonies.

And then I take the bus all the way to downtown, to Vancouver.

Cherise Seucharan: After a few difficult months in Vancouver, living in shelters and whichever 24-hour store would allow him to spend the night, he finally got a refugee claim approved.

Cruz: When they tell me, Welcome to Canada, I was when I get off to the sidewalk. I got something in my throat, too. I want to scream to everybody. I am Canadian now. I am Canadian. Now I look the people and I want to scream at them and I want to hug them and tell them. And at the meantime, something in me says, Come down, they don’t know nothing about you or your life.

Cherise Seucharan: Later, his wife and kids followed, coming to the U.S. by migrant caravan and eventually making it to Canada. They all have refugee status and today Cruz works in construction in a suburb of Vancouver. Stories like Cruz’s aren’t uncommon. Remember, there were 40,000 people who made the same journey last year.

I have to make it clear here that Canada does detain and deport migrants, and our treatment of migrants held in detention has been criticized by global human rights watchers. We are not innocent in this system. In fact, earlier this month, a family of four died in an attempt to get over to the U.S. from Canada by crossing the Saint Lawrence River in a boat. They had recently been ordered deported back to Romania by the Canadian government.

But by comparison, the U.S. detains and deports more migrants than Canada by far. In 2018, data tracked over an 18-month period showed that Canada deported about 1% of the irregular border crossers coming from the U.S. Even if all of the people that Canada held in detention that year happened to be asylum claimants, which is unlikely. That would only be less than 1% of them. And the average length of time spent in detention was about 13 days

In the U.S., One way to get a rough picture of where asylum seekers end up is by looking at immigration court data. Since most cases go through that system, in 2018, over 55% of all cases resulted in detention for some length of time and over 50% were deported. And according to the Center for American Progress, the average length of time for adults held in detention that year was just under 40 days. And speaking of deportation, there’s an entire airline in the U.S. dedicated to it.

CNN Reporter: It’s called Ice Air, an airline funded by the U.S. government and run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. A fleet of commercial planes flying deported immigrants out of the United States.

Grieving person: It’s just so hard. They just…  they just pull you away. You can’t even say bye to anybody. It’s so hard.

Separated Father: That’s my daughter.

CNN REPORTER: He was separated from his two young daughters in early March when immigration officials pulled him over on his way to work and took him into custody.

Cherise Seucharan: And while the immigration detention system was not created by former President Donald Trump, reports of human rights violations in detention had become widespread during his presidency.

Insider Business Reporter: The Associated Press reported on June 20th that 250 infants, children and teens were locked up for a month without adequate food, water and sanitation. At the same station, three girls reportedly took turns taking care of a sick two-year-old boy because no one else would.

At other facilities on the border, migrants describe their living quarters as ice boxes because of how cold they were and dog pounds for how they were treated. And as we all remember, children were being separated from their parents at these facilities. Just last year.

Cherise Seucharan: In 2017, Human Rights Watch investigated deaths that had occurred in detention and found many migrants had little or no access to medical care.

Human Rights Watch Clip: In a lot of these cases, people are dying of very treatable diseases. Manuel Cota Domingo was 34 years old when he died of untreated diabetes and pneumonia. Santiago Sanchez died of a staph infection after delayed medical care. Tioma Carlos died of suicide after being detained for two and a half years.

Cherise Seucharan: The likelihood of asylum seekers being detained or deported is again something that Canada has documented evidence about. This is lawyer Jamie Liew, an expert in immigration law.

Jamie Chai Yun Liew: There was a lot of evidence before the Canadian government and the courts with regards to the problems with the U.S. refugee determination system. You know, aside from assessing whether or not someone is a refugee, the ways in which the United States has historically dealt with refugee claimants is, you know, problematic.

There is documentary evidence in that litigation, for example, indicating that people were automatically detained when they were turned away at the Canada-us border. So, you know, that’s that’s concerning the amount of detention, the use of prisons to put or basically contain refugee claimants. It’s a problem. You know, that kind of treatment is not one that should be seen in a country that’s supposed to be refugee friendly or one that’s supposed to be abiding by the refugee convention, for example. Right.

Cherise Seucharan: She says it’s also not uncommon for asylum seekers to make the decision to journey to Canada after hearing about experiences of other people in their community.

Jamie Chai Yun Liew: You know, a lot of refugees do make decisions based on anecdotal and lived experience from people within the same community – linguistically, ethnically, nationally or otherwise. So I do see that happening.

Cherise Seucharan: The documentary evidence Liew mentions is substantial. You just have to look.

(Dynamic marimba music starts)

Maureen Silcoff is a partner at Silcoff Shachter in Toronto, practicing in the area of refugee and immigration law. She is the past president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers and has sat on Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board. And she says Canada has had this evidence about America for years.

Maureen Silcoff: This is something that Canada has tracked for a long time. So there’s evidence about human rights records. You know, in addition, it’s no secret what the evidence is before the Supreme Court of Canada, extensive evidence by experts in the field in the United States, experiential evidence of people who have gone through the system, the litigants who took the case to court, what their experiences have been with the system, in particular the horrific conditions of some of them in jail.

Cherise Seucharan: She points to two studies that were conducted before the Safe Third Country Agreement was even signed. In particular, a 2002 report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which said that refugee claims based on people fleeing gender-based violence were not treated the same in the U.S. and Canada.

Maureen Silcoff: So this was the House of Commons Citizenship and Immigration Committee, and the committee said, well, and I’m actually going to quote this because it’s quite telling. It said – until such time as the American regulations regarding gender-based persecution are consistent with Canadian practice, women claiming refugee status on the basis that they are victims of domestic violence be listed as an exempt category – end quote.

And not only that, the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees, the UNHCR, did its own study of the proposed regulations at the time, and the UNHCR was concerned about the widespread use of detention in the United States immigration system for asylum seekers. It was also concerned about gender-based claims because of deficiencies in the U.S. system. So we saw back in 2002 that there were concerns and I think the landscape reveals that those concerns remain very much alive.

Cherise Seucharan: There have been two separate charter challenges brought against the Safe Third Country Agreement. In 2007, three groups – the Canadian Council for Refugees, the Canadian Council of Churches and Amnesty International Canada – said that the STCA violated two sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section Two – the right to life, liberty and Security of the Person and Section 15 – the right to non-discrimination.

(Dynamic marimba music ends)

And they brought that argument to the Supreme Court, saying that the agreement compromised the safety of migrants by sending them back to the U.S. and into immigration detention and possible deportation, which international courts see as a human rights violation. And the Federal Court ruled in favor that yes, there was in fact a charter violation and the STCA was struck down.

Maureen Silcoff: So the Federal Court determined that there was a violation under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms because of certain deficiencies in the U.S. asylum system. For example, domestic violence interpretation in terms of the refugee provisions placing women at risk.

Cherise Seucharan: But then the Canadian government appealed that ruling and won.

Maureen Silcoff: The matter was appealed by the government to the Federal Court of Appeal, and the Federal Court of Appeal did not displace these factual findings by the lower court. Rather, it ruled on some legal technical issues that ended up setting aside the decision.

So, for example, there were issues about what’s known as jurisdiction or vires to consider certain aspects of the agreement. But, you know, it’s interesting that the facts, the concerns, the deficiencies in the U.S. system remained in place, but the agreement as a whole was also left intact.

Cherise Seucharan: There was a second legal challenge in 2017 with the same three organizations, this time bringing more evidence and more refugee claimants as examples. They brought what was described in the court proceedings as a mountain of evidence.

Maureen Silcoff: This time, individuals actually came to the border and they were able to describe their experiences. So that really brought the reality of the situation to light. So there was literally a mountain of evidence before the court. And once again, the federal court ruled that there was a charter violation, mostly focused in that decision on the U.S. detention practices and the fact that asylum seekers were turned around at the Canadian border risked being put into the U.S. detention system.

(They) experience very, very harsh measures in terms of the very poor conditions of detention. Also, it was difficult to get out of detention. Once you were in detention, it was difficult to properly assert a refugee claim to gather evidence when you’re traumatized, when you’re often new to the country, you may not know the language, etcetera. So this extensive use of detention for asylum seekers weighed heavily in terms of the court finding a violation of the charter.

Cherise Seucharan: And the STCA was struck down again. The ruling from Justice Ann Marie McDonald was clear that it was a violation of human rights under the charter. She wrote that through the STCA Canada facilitated the transfer of asylum seekers into the hands of the U.S. Quote, “CBSA officials are involved in the physical handing over of claimants to U.S. officials. This conduct does not make Canada a ‘passive participant.’”

She went on to describe how these dangers were grossly disproportional to the benefits of the STCA. She cited imprisonment, cruel and unusual detention conditions, solitary confinement and the risk of deportation, things that she said were not worth the benefits of the responsibility-sharing agreement. She concluded, and I quote, “In my view, to find otherwise would be entirely outside the norms accepted and our free and democratic society.”

The Canadian government appealed again, and despite the evidence, they won and the ruling was again overturned. Maureen describes this as a ruling based on a technicality. The court said that there wasn’t enough of the right kinds of evidence to rule on a charter claim, and that part of the problem was how Canada reviewed the U.S. and not with the legislation as a whole.

Maureen Silcoff: The deficiencies in the U.S. system remained. And both times the court ruled and found that there were charter violations. Both times it went up to the Court of Appeal and this time the Federal Court of Appeal also overturned the lower court’s decision and had its own set of reasons to offer again, a number of what I would call fairly technical matters.

Cherise Seucharan: The court also chose not to rule on the Section 15 argument, which deals with discrimination, including gender discrimination. Raji Mangat, the executive director of West Coast Leaf, is part of a team who has taken that decision back to Canada’s Supreme Court. She says there’s evidence to show that gender-based violence is a major issue facing migrants at the U.S. border and must be addressed. We were really wanting.

Raji Mangat: To focus on kind of the gendered impacts of the Safe Third Country Agreement regime and kind of how the people who are fleeing gender-based persecution experience kind of unique impacts of not only detention, but the sort of access to justice considerations around being able to make an asylum claim and then the risk of being returned to your country of origin, where you will continue to face risks of gender-based persecution.

But when we think about the kinds of folks who are making asylum claims, they’re often people who are vulnerable, more marginalized communities in their place of origin. And the reason why they’re seeking asylum somewhere else is because they’re being persecuted. And often that can be on the basis it’s not exclusively on the basis of protected grounds like their gender or their sexual orientation, their race or ethnocultural identity. But it can be and this is what Section 15 is specifically aimed at providing protection for.

Cherise Seucharan: The Supreme Court heard that case last fall, and it’s expected to deliver its ruling soon. But there’s another thing. A part of the STCA is that Canada would conduct reviews of the U.S. as a safe country, looking at whether it was compliant with things like the Refugee Convention and Convention Against Torture. But the problem, says Maureen, is that these reviews are completely opaque.

Maureen Silcoff: Canada is supposed to be looking at the United States’ human rights record. And importantly, Canada is meant to conduct ongoing reviews of this kind of compliance. So that’s been a bit of an issue because the reviews are not transparent, they’re not proactively disclosed, and no one really has a good sense of not only what the human rights records are that Canada is looking at, but also what the conclusions are and what the measure is. So part of the problem, these reviews are done in secret,

Cherise Seucharan: She says it’s also important to note that Canada has. Accepted claims from irregular border crossers at a rate that is comparable to regular claims, meaning that the type of crossing has almost no bearing on whether a person qualifies as a refugee or not. In the U.S., President Joe Biden recently announced new measures that would make it even harder for migrants to claim asylum at the southern border.

Hon. Alejandro Mayorkas: That notice of proposed rulemaking, as well as what we announced on January 5th, reflects an overarching strategy of building lawful pathways and then as a complement to that, deliver consequences to those who do not avail themselves of the lawful pathways.

Cherise Seucharan: This was announced just as Title 42 comes to an end. Another immigration measure that was enacted during the pandemic and allowed the U.S. to turn back migrants on the basis of public health, which actually stranded thousands in Mexico. A cost-benefit analysis of the new STCA expansion was published recently by the Government of Canada.

It reads that the secretive new routes that migrants will take as a result of the new law would, quote, “increase the risks of human trafficking and sexual violence targeted at women, girls and LGBTQ individuals.”

The memo said that migrants are likely to turn to illicit networks for support. And as a side note, these new rules will also cost an estimated $60 million over ten years.

Maureen Silcoff: So it’s actually quite shocking that in light of all of this evidence, everything that the Canadian government is aware of in terms of the deficiencies in the U.S. asylum system, that instead of pulling back these harsh measures, the pendulum actually has swung the other way and the border is now virtually closed aside from some preexisting exemptions.

Cherise Seucharan: Maureen says we could be looking into ways to mitigate the harms by creating exemptions in the agreement. In particular, the groups of people least served by the U.S. asylum system who Canada could be a safe refuge for, like creating exemptions for people facing gender-based violence.

Maureen Silcoff: So I hope that understanding that there are public policy tools to mitigate some of the harsh consequences of the expansion, that the government will sit down and have a serious look at what could be done as a path forward.

Cherise Seucharan: Many advocates have called for the end of the Safe Third Country Agreement. They want to strike it down completely, but to do so would be to say that, yes, the U.S. is unsafe for migrants, and while it may be true, doing so would be a huge political statement. In the face of the long-standing, economically important and friendly relationship Canada has with the U.S., That could be a disastrous statement to make.

It might not be something most Canadian leaders or politicians would be willing to stand behind, but there are some calling for Canada to take that bold step. Chris Alexander was the former minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship serving under Stephen Harper. He was also Canada’s ambassador to Afghanistan in the early 2000. In a panel in 2020 hosted by the Global Migration Lab at the University of Toronto, he was clear Canada needs to face the truth about the U.S.

(Downtempo emotive music plays)

Chris Alexander: So I don’t think there’s any way a serious expert with experience in these fields could argue that the United States is a safe place for refugees today. Better than a lot of other countries, still, yes. Able to adjudicate many cases, yes. But safe by the standards of the Refugee Convention and the other international instruments whose principles were supposed to be living up to in these difficult times, no.

It should be about peer review, stating the truth, helping each other get to a better place. There have been times in Canada’s history where we didn’t do as well on these issues Today. We should take pride in the fact that we are in a better place and not indulge in the fiction that the United States is anywhere close to meeting the standards that we expect.

Cherise Seucharan: But for now, while Canada continues to uphold this agreement, there are real people who will have to decide if they want to experience just how safe the U.S. asylum system really is or risk a now illegal border crossing into Canada.

Cruz: People want to be safe and have a better life and then they will try. It’s like when I try to cross the desert ten days, ten nights and I don’t want to go back. I want to get to a place where I can be free and have a better living without fear. Many people, they will continue going to a different places to be safe and be free. If they want to block the borders, close the border, they have to open a solutions for the people too, because every time they make it harder, people are going to go rounds and sometime. They die trying to get to a safe country.

(Downtempo emotive music concludes)

Credits

(Canadaland theme starts)

Jesse Brown: That’s your Canadaland. You can email me about today’s show at jesse@canadaland.com. I read everything you send. We’re on twitter at Canadaland website is canadaland.com. Today’s episode was reported by Cherise Seucharan. It was produced by Tristan Capacchione, our audio editor and technical producer, with production assistance from Jonathan Goldsbie, our news editor. The managing editor of Canadaland is Annette Ejiofor. I’m your host, Jesse Brown. Our theme music is by So Called, syndication is handled by CFUV 101.9 FM in Victoria. You can visit them online at CFUV.ca. Thank you for supporting Canadaland.

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