Canada is closing the Safe Third Country Agreement loophole

Updated: Mar 20, 2019 | Tags: Canada eTA Eligibility, Canada Entry Requirements, Canadian Refugee


Canada's Bill Blair, Border Security Minister, has been in discussions with U.S. policymakers about closing a loophole in the border arrangement between the U.S. and Canada, known as the Safe Third Country Agreement.

Access to Canada via unofficial border crossings

According to the Safe Third Country Agreement, those seeking asylum are not able to ask for refugee protection in Canada if they enter the country via an official border crossing and have come from a country that is regarded as safe, like the U.S. However, refugees can claim protection when already in Canada. As a result, many thousands of asylum-seekers are entering Canada on foot via unofficial border crossings.

Minister Blair issued a press announcement, stating that discussions had taken place about tackling the problem of refugees presenting themselves at crossings other than official borders. In such cases, they had obviously entered Canada from the U.S. or another safe third country. The Minister continued by saying that disincentives to irregular border crossings may soon be applied.

A problem that goes back to 2017

The first irregular migrants began to enter Canada in early 2017, soon after Donald Trump's announcement on the end of a program offering temporary protection to some migrants. Since then, more than 40,000 asylum seekers have left the U.S bound for Canada without crossing via the official border points where entry would have been denied.

The Minister admitted that people had also crossed irregularly from Canada to the U.S. Therefore, the agreement between the 2 countries is in urgent need of a review and update. While Blair said that ongoing discussions were taking place, he did not elaborate on the finer details. However, he did acknowledge that the current agreement had been effective for over 10 years, but asylum seekers were now exploiting a loophole, enabling irregular border crossings. Therefore, the issue needs urgent attention.

A 2017 internal memo admits difficulties

Official documents have come to light (through access to information laws), with an internal 2017 government memo concerning the Safe Third Country Agreement. This revealed that work on updating the agreement had been going on for some time. Ahmed Hussen, the Canada Immigration Minister, was apparently given a briefing paper at the start of 2017 before going into talks with Kristjen Nielsen, the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security. This paper expressed concern at the rush of irregular asylum seekers and admitted that the agreement was not operating in the manner intended.

Criticism of the government

Michelle Rempel, a conservative and critic of immigration, has been appealing to those in power for over 12 months about closing the agreement's loophole and putting an end to the queue jumping that is currently taking place within the Canada immigration system. Rempel lays the blame at the Prime Minister's feet for promoting irregular migration through an over-enthusiastic tweet he sent at the start of 2017, welcoming asylum seekers to Canada.

Rempel emphasised the human consequences of a system that allows individuals to come to Canada illegally from the U.S.. These people are taking the places of other endangered individuals across the globe who are waiting to be granted official asylum. It is important to remember that many of these countries do not have Canada visa or Canada ETA agreements in place. Therefore, obtaining a Canada visa or Canada ETA is simply not an option for asylum seekers in terms of travelling from their home countries. Remple went on to add that the country's immigration system should be based on fairness, organisation and compassion and not the current state of chaos produced by irregular migration.

Calls for the agreement to be suspended

Jenny Kwan of Canada's New Democrats, another critic of immigration, said she wanted to see the complete suspension of the agreement by Canada, believing that the United States was not a secure place for asylum seekers. She referred to a recent ruling by a U.S Attorney General that disallowed asylum seekers from using domestic violence and gang violence as reasons for applying for U.S asylum. In her opinion, this was unacceptable.

Kwan also noted that children had been separated from their families at the borders during 2018 when their parents were detained, with numerous families yet to be reunited. She criticised this as inhumane treatment, breaching international laws on children's rights. She further asserted her view that the agreement should be suspended.

Significant pressure now rests upon the shoulders of Bill Blair who only took up the newly-created role of Border Security Minister last fall. Canadian public feeling on the matter is running high and citizens expect a fair and orderly immigration system. So, everyone is waiting to see how the government will now proceed in terms of the current Safe Third Country Agreement.