Refugee advocates say Canada could be in legal hot water if the United States deports asylum seekers turned away from Canada as part of a broader deal with the U.S. to close the border to all but non-essential traffic. A sign is seen near the border near Emerson, Man., Friday, May 5, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Trevor Hagan

Refugee advocates say Canada could be in legal hot water if the United States deports asylum seekers turned away from Canada as part of a broader deal with the U.S. to close the border to all but non-essential traffic. A sign is seen near the border near Emerson, Man., Friday, May 5, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Trevor Hagan

Canada could face legal trouble over refugee deportations amid COVID-19 crisis: advocates

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said any refugees crossing border would be turned back

Refugee advocates say Canada could be in legal hot water if the United States deports asylum seekers turned away from Canada as part of a broader deal with the U.S. to close the border to all but non-essential traffic.

On Monday, the U.S. announced a 30-day agreement with both Canada and Mexico that includes immediately returning any migrants without legal status to the countries from which they arrived, or to their countries of origin if that isn’t possible, rather than holding them at U.S. facilities.

Prime Minister Trudeau said last week anyone crossing between the two countries on foot to claim asylum will be turned away as part of the temporary border deal aimed at combating COVID-19.

This has raised questions about whether refugees turned back by Canada would be returned to their country of origin.

Alex Neve, secretary general at Amnesty International Canada, says the federal government should be concerned about the legal culpability such a move could place upon Canada.

Canada’s international obligations regarding refugees include a commitment to “non-refoulement,” which means not sending refugees back to countries where they could face torture or persecution.

If a refugee turned away by Canada is later deported to a country where they are harmed, Canada could be considered complicit in this outcome and therefore legally liable, Neve said.

“The other end of non-refoulement for a refugee is the possibility of death, torture, rape, arbitrary imprisonment. We cannot close our eyes to that, not only morally, but legally,” he said in an interview Saturday.

“It is entirely possible that if someone was subject to refoulement having been impacted by this border accord that we negotiated, that we would be legally liable. We would be complicit in what happened to them.”

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said Friday she is holding “urgent” discussions with U.S. officials over the issue, adding she wants assurances that refugees returned by Canada to the U.S. will not face refoulement.

“It is important for us to abide by our international commitments when it comes to refugees and we are very alive to concerns around refoulement.”

Refugee advocates were harshly critical of the move by Canada to temporarily turn away asylum seekers in the midst of a pandemic when it was announced last week.

Now that Canada knows refugees could face the prospect of being returned to their countries of origin — countries they have fled seeking humanitarian aid — Canada should walk away from this deal with the U.S., Neve said.

“This is why we should never have entered into this accord in the first place, it is just simply too fraught and the likelihood that concerns like this will continue to come up is almost inescapable.”

Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, says her members were “extremely skeptical” from the outset that this new deal would ensure refugee rights are protected.

That skepticism has proven to be well-founded, Dench said.

“It seems like the Liberals have been hiding behind this fig leaf that they had some assurances from the U.S. government that, from the beginning, seemed extremely flimsy. And it’s now been exposed this fig leaf doesn’t really exist,” she said.

“They are trying to pretend they care about the rights of refugees, but if they cared about refugees they certainly wouldn’t have acted in this way.”

She agreed that Canada could face legal trouble if an asylum seeker turned away by Canada is deported by the United States.

READ MORE: Federal doctor says COVID-19 battle will last ‘months, many months’ as cases soar

Since 2017, more than 56,000 people have crossed into Canada from the U.S. on foot using informal openings in the border, the best known being one in Quebec called Roxham Road.

They do this to get around the Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S., which forbids people from applying for asylum at regular land border crossings, on the grounds that people need to ask for refugee status where they arrive first and that both countries are safe.

The majority of these “irregular” migrants came to Canada from countries like Haiti and Nigeria and were in America legally. Many had temporary travel visas while others had temporary protected status in the U.S.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Matthew Dyman said Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, only repatriates people who are illegally present in the U.S.

“If people are in the U.S. illegally ICE would co-ordinate to fly them to their home countries,” he said in an email.

Even before these more recent developments, advocates were arguing major changes to U.S. immigration policy, including detentions and deportations of asylum seekers, have effectively rendered the U.S. unsafe for refugees and the Safe Third Country Agreement should be changed.

Amnesty International, the Canadian Council for Refugees and the Canadian Council of Churches are currently involved in a legal challenge of the agreement with the United States, arguing the agreement violates certain provisions of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“Now we have just one more indication in which U.S. policy so frequently throws refugees under the bus,” Neve said.

“This indication that the U.S. is simply going to deport them as quickly as possible is a further indictment of the U.S. record living up to refugee protection obligations and one more reason why the Safe Third Country Agreement in its entirety needs to be scrapped.”

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coronavirusrefugee

Just Posted

(Dave Ogilvie photo)
One injured after being pinned by fallen forklift near Peachland

West Kelowna emergency crews responded to reports of a person stuck under a forklift

(Big White Ski Resort/Contributed)
Big White’s big clean-up: Large turnout for post-melt mountain tidy

More than 165 people showed up to help gather the litter left behind from the winter season

Mounties cover a burgundy truck with a tent at Buckerfields in West Kelowna on Monday, June 14. The RCMP is investigating after a woman’s body was found inside the truck. (Amandalina Letterio/Capital News)
West Kelowna RCMP investigating suspicious death after body found in truck

Police responded to a truck parked out front of a Main Street business where the body was found

(Jenna Cocullo / The Northern View)
Delays expected on Lakeshore Road this week

Northbound traffic on Lakeshore between Richter and Barrera will be detoured for paving

David Larsen, left, and co-host Tony Peyton. (K96.3/Twitter)
Popular Kelowna radio host dies after battle with cancer

David Larsen was half of the longtime Kelowna morning-show duo David and Tony

Singer-songwriter Jann Arden is pictured with a draft horse. (Canadian Horse Defence Coalition)
Jann Arden backs petition to stop live horse export

June 14 is the International Day to End Live Export of Animals

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) is scored on by Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez, not pictured, during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Habs fall 4-1 to Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of NHL semifinal series

Match was Montreal’s first game outside of Canada in 2021

Penticton Overdose Prevention Society co-founders Desiree Franz, Shane Surowski and Stephanie Lines have created the city’s first unsanctioned public overdose prevention site using an old wine-tour bus. The site began operations in June 2021. (Desiree Franz/Facebook)
Volunteers launch Penticton’s first public supervised injection site

2021 is on pace to be the deadliest year for overdoses in Penticton on record

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, assistant deputy speaker at the B.C. legislature, presides over committee discussions. The legislature is completing its delayed spring session this week, with most MLAs participating by video conference. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 infections dip below 100 over weekend

Only 68 new cases recorded Monday, four additional deaths

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

B.C. ambulance station in Revelstoke is expected to get a new system called the Scheduled On-Call (SOC) this fall. (Liam Harrap - Revelstoke Review)
B.C. ambulance changes could put Revelstoke residents at risk, warn local paramedics

Paramedics said to expect a substantial increase in ambulance response time starting this fall

Jane Linden
KCR: Volunteering keeps you active

Kelowna Community Resources shares stories of its volunteers in a weekly column

This goose family went for a leisurely stroll down Vernon’s Main Street Saturday, April 25. (Dave Deshane photo)
Controversial Vernon goose cull won’t fly this year

Necessary permit procedures held up at a federal level

The BC Ferries website went down for a short while Monday morning following a provincial announcement that recreational travel between health authorities can resume Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries’ website crashes in wake of provincial reopening announcement

Website back up now, recreational travel between health regions to resume as of Tuesday

Most Read