A Canadian court Wednesday invalidated the country’s Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States, ruling elements of the law violate Canadian constitutional guarantees of life, liberty and security.
But Federal Court Justice Ann Marie McDonald delayed the implementation of her decision six months.
“I conclude that the provisions enacting the (safe third country agreement) infringe the guarantees in section 7 of the Charter,” McDonald wrote in her decision, referring to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, part of Canada’s Constitution. “I have also concluded that the infringement is not justified under section 1 of the Charter.”
Under the agreement, immigrants who want to seek asylum in Canada and present themselves at ground ports of entry from the United States are returned to the U.S. and told to seek asylum there.
But if they request asylum on Canadian soil at a location other than an official crossing, the process is allowed to go forward. In most cases, the refugees are released and allowed to live in Canada, taking advantage of generous social welfare benefits while their asylum applications are reviewed, a process that can take years.
Last fall Amnesty International, the Canadian Council for Refugees and the Canadian Council of Churches sued, arguing that the Canadian government has no guarantee that those returned to the United States will be safe because of the Trump administration’s treatment of immigrants.
The legal challenge cited the widespread detention of asylum seekers who are turned back from Canada and the separation of parents and children as other examples of why the U.S. is not a “safe” country for newly arrived immigrants.
Mary-Liz Power, a spokesperson for Canada’s Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, said they were aware of the decision.
“Although the Federal Court has made its ruling, that decision does not come in effect until January 22nd 2021,” Power said in a written statement. “The Safe Third Country Agreement remains in effect.”
On Wednesday, Justin Mohammed, of Amnesty International Canada, one of the parties that filed the lawsuit that led to the ruling, said he’d received the decision, but hadn’t fully digested it yet.
Since Trump took office in 2017, tens of thousands of people have crossed into Canada at locations between ports of entry where they were arrested, but then able to file a refugee claim.
Many of those migrants crossed into Quebec from upstate New York on Roxham Road, a location that until the COVID-19 pandemic was a magnet for immigrants in the United States who wanted to seek asylum in Canada.