Lawyers call for changes to Safe Third Country Agreement amid influx of refugees

Lawyers face influx of refugee clients

Immigration lawyers say they’ve received an influx of requests from refugees in the U.S. hoping to seek asylum in Canada — despite an agreement that makes it nearly impossible.

The Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement requires people to apply for asylum in the first country where they arrive, unless an immediate family member lives in the other country.

The Canadian government has faced pressure to repeal the agreement since President Donald Trump issued an executive order banning travel and immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries. But Canada’s government has so far refused.

Alastair Clarke, of Clarke Immigration Law in Winnipeg, said that’s a mistake. He said 10 new clients have been referred to him in the last week — some of whom crossed the border on foot, successfully bypassing border points so they could make their refugee claims once already in the country.

It’s a method police say is on the rise — the RCMP said 21 people were arrested for illegally crossing the border into Emerson, Man., Saturday.

Clarke said it’s putting people at risk.

“They’re crossing farmer fields on foot,” he added. “When it’s -10, -15 with the wind chill factors, it’s highly risky.”

He noted that refugees are avoiding coming through border crossing points because they fear that if they get turned away from the border due to the Safe Third Country Agreement, they won’t be able to file for refugee status in Canada later on.

He said the agreement should either be “repealed, amended or suspended.”

“The refugees who are coming into Canada do not feel safe in the United States,” he said.

The federal government did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday, but earlier this month, a spokesperson said the government wouldn’t suspend the agreement.

“Our government has no indication that the executive order has any impact on the American asylum system,” said the Feb. 1 statement from Nancy Caron.

Caron said the agreement is focused on how to handle people who show up at either land border to make asylum claims, not the resettled refugees covered by Trump’s edict. Even if they were covered, the deal operates independently of any executive orders, she added.

Henry Giroux, an American-born cultural critic and professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, said it’s no wonder refugees don’t feel safe in the U.S.

“It seems to me that when you have seven countries largely populated by Muslims labelled as terrorist countries, when in fact almost none of those countries has actually been responsible for a terrorist act in the United States, it instills an enormous amount of fear in people. An enormous amount of insecurity,” he said.

Zool Suleman, of Suleman and Co. in Vancouver, said he’s heard from people other than those who would have been affected by the executive order.

“It’s not as simple as, ‘I’m a new refugee to America and I want to come to Canada.’ There is such a group, but there’s another group of people who arrived in America from very difficult situations years ago, who now have lives in America,” he said.

He said he’s received calls from people who were originally from Mexico, Central America, South America and Africa. It’s not just claimants from Muslim-majority countries.

“I’m hearing from people who are already in America and do not feel that they will get a fair hearing. And there has been a noticeable increase in these types of calls since the executive orders took place.”

Suleman said his responses to callers vary case-by-case, but he said he has to warn them about the Safe Third Country Agreement.

“I think the Canadian government should seriously explore if the Safe Third Country Agreement is a viable option,” he said. “Increasingly this problem is going to be on the front pages, and I think our government needs to look at some sort of humanitarian response.”

Trump’s executive order was suspended by a judge pending a legal challenge in the U.S. courts.

Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Kelowna airport advises travellers to plan ahead this holiday season

YLW is expecting more than 100,000 passengers to move through the terminal over next three weeks

SunRype products included in Tim Hortons meal program

The Okanagan fruit and juice producer provides FunBites in the Timmies Minis packs

West Kelowna girl takes aim at Type 1 diabetes

Arielle Findlater took a trip to Parliament to lobby for Type 1 diabetes

Man caught on camera allegedly trying to defraud ICBC

Auto-insurer warns B.C. drivers to record info after crashes

B.C. trustee’s anti-LGBTQ comments got him barred from schools

Barry Neufeld calls vote to leave him off liaison list ‘workplace discrimination’

Firm says trees obstructing vision at Humboldt Broncos crash intersection

Sixteen people died and 13 others were injured in the collision at an intersection north of Tisdale

Man charged after B.C house fire triggers high-grade explosives

Thomas Daniel Kendall charged with causing bodily harm by failing to properly store explosives

Kelowna takes junior boys tourney

The out-of-town teams in the eight-team Fulton Maroons Classic 2018 met in… Continue reading

Update: Coquihalla re-opens after vehicle incident

Highway 5 is set to reopen after 1 p.m.

Stop ‘renovictions,’ B.C. housing task force says

MLAs call for end to strata bans on renting vacant suites

Enderby florist pick of B.C.’s crop

Crocus Floral Design earns wedding award for second year in a row, also several Okanagan finalists

Girl, 6, lured from elementary school, sexually assaulted: Vancouver police

Police are seeking dashcam footage from nearby Sexsmith Elementary School in South Vancouver

Most Read