Canadian law students to unite to study issues raised by Trump refugee ban

Law students unite to study travel bans

MONTREAL — A U.S. court decision to temporarily block U.S. President Trump’s controversial travel ban makes the work of Canadian law students trying to help people navigate the measure more important than ever, an organizer says.

Students from all 22 of Canada’s law schools signed up to take part in a daylong study blitz on Saturday to conduct legal research relating to the recent travel bans in the United States and their impact in Canada. 

Hours before their event was set to start, a U.S. judge ordered a nationwide hold on the measures Friday night, backing a challenge by the states of Washington and Minnesota who want the opportunity to challenge it.

The ruling suspends Trump’s order to temporarily halt immigrants, refugees and visitors from seven Muslim majority countries.

But Montreal law student Rachelle Bastarache said the new development makes the research event more relevant, especially since Trump took to Twitter on Saturday to call the judge’s decision “ridiculous” and his administration indicated it would appeal the ruling.

“I don’t think we can say that the U.S. is a safe country for refugees to claim asylum in, because the person on top has made it clear about how he feels about the situation, and that won’t change,” Bastarache said.

“It’s even more important to get the word out in case the next order is worse.”

Dubbed a “research-a-thon,” the event is focused on gathering information for the Canadian Council for Refugees to help support a potential legal challenge to the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement.

The largest group is in Montreal, where between 100 and 200 students from McGill, Universite du Quebec a Montreal and the Universite de Montreal are hosting a joint event.  

Bastarache said she originally floated the idea of a study group for her fellow McGill students who wanted to help those affected by Trump’s immigration policies.

But when 50 students signed on in the first two hours, she thought the idea could be worth expanding.

“I was laying in bed at night thinking, ‘if we can get 50 people at McGill, how many could we get all across Canada?'” she said in an interview.

The Safe Third Country Agreement is based on the premise that Canada and the United States are generally safe countries for refugees and therefore asylum seekers must claim status in whichever of the two they reach first.

In general, it means Canada won’t accept refugees who have already entered through the United States, according to Janet Dench of the Canadian Council for Refugees.

Dench said the new U.S. executive orders have brought about legal confusion that could lead to refugees being sent back to their home countries to face persecution.

“The U.S in our view was never completely safe, and in our view now it is even less safe,” she said.

The Canadian law students will make sure the organization is up to speed on anything that has changed since the last unsuccessful attempt to overturn the agreement ended in 2009, as well as help make sense of the changes ushered in with the Trump presidency.

They’ve also added some research topics in light of Friday’s developments.

The students have set up a Canada Helps fundraising page to benefit the refugee organization, which had raised just over $4,000 as of 2 p.m. Saturday.

In addition to research and fundraising, Bastarache hopes the symbolism of the event will encourage the Canadian government to review the Safe Third Country Agreement.

Bastarache said Saturday’s event has drawn about 700 participants, while organizers only expected 300 to 500.

“I’ve already had a lot of students approach and ask how we can keep this going,” she said. “So this won’t be a one-day project. This research and this conversation is going to continue for us.”

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version listed University of Moncton instead of Universite de Montreal in para 9

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