The Federal Court of Appeal ruled on Thursday that an agreement between Canada and the United States to treat each other as “safe countries” for refugees does not violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The court allowed the federal government’s appeal of an earlier ruling by the Federal Court, which had ruled that the so-called Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) breaches constitutional guarantees of life, liberty and security.
The Federal Court of Appeal also dismissed a cross-appeal of a part of the original decision by the Federal Court by refugee rights groups Amnesty International (AI), the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR), and the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC), which brought the original challenge.
Under the bilateral agreement, which took effect in 2004, Canada and the U.S. recognize each other as safe places to seek protection. It means Canada can turn back potential refugees who arrive at land ports of entry along the Canada-U. S. border on the basis they must pursue their claims in the U.S., the country where they first arrived.
In a joint statement, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino and Public Safety Minister Bill Blair welcomed the court decision, saying the STCA has served Canada well for 16 years.
“For the last three years, Canada has welcomed more refugees than any other country in the world, and continues to provide protection to those fleeing conflict and persecution,” the joint statement said.
“Canada remains firmly committed to upholding a fair and compassionate refugee protection system and the STCA remains a comprehensive means for the compassionate, fair, and orderly handling of asylum claims at the Canada-U.S. land border.”
The refugee advocacy groups that challenged the bilateral agreement in court can seek leave to appeal today’s ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada, the country’s highest court.
However, it is up to the Supreme Court to decide whether it will hear the appeal.