Canadian Council of Churches Says U.S. Not Safe for Refugees

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The Christian Reformed Church, through its membership in the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC), is challenging the designation of the United States as a safe country for refugees. Under the Safe Third Country Agreement, in place since 2004, refugees at a Canada-U.S. border post seeking to make a refugee claim in Canada are denied access to the Canadian refugee system and immediately returned to the United States.

The CCC, along with two other organizations, launched a legal challenge on July 5, 2017, asking the Canadian Federal Court to revoke the agreement.

“In the course of our work with parliamentarians over the last few months we’ve noticed that the Safe Third Country Agreement is a matter of controversy,” said Mike Hogeterp, director of the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue. “Because of this, we’ve asked [Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen] and MPs for a thorough review of [the agreement]. The legal challenge is an opportunity to carefully scrutinize the safety concerns expressed by migrants outside of the fray of partisan politics.”

The CCC is joined in the case by the Canadian Council for Refugees and Amnesty International. “The U.S. was never safe for all refugees, and is now even less safe,” said Loly Rico, president of the Canadian Council for Refugees. “It is wrong, morally and legally, to send claimants back to the U.S., knowing as we do that they may face serious violations of their basic rights.”

“Our organizations have pressed repeatedly, expecting that Canada would move to suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement as regard for the rights of refugees has rapidly plummeted under the Trump Administration,” said Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada. “To our astonishment and disappointment, however, the Canadian government continues to maintain that the U.S. asylum system qualifies as safe. We are left with no choice but to turn to the courts to protect refugee rights.”

About the Author

Gayla Postma retired as news editor for The Banner in 2020.

See comments (7)


I think its time, past time actually, to let this effort (and the effort called OSJ) be its own effort/organization quite about from the institutional church know as the CRCNA.  World Renew is a separate organization (and does not received ministry shares.  The same should be the case for OSJ and the Centre for Public Dialogue.

It is time, past time.

I don't agree with some of the Trump administration's proposals, but the debate is over whether or not to accept additional refugees from certain countries at this time. This is a far cry from refugees who are already in the U.S. being "denied basic rights". I don't think the refugees who worship in my church every Sunday would recognize what Mr. Hogeterp and company are talking about. I realize we live in a polarized time, but it would be nice if denominational employees would consider the 9th Commandment when making sweeping statements like this. 

When I joined the CRC some 60 years ago, no one suggested that I was joining an anti American advocacy group. No one suggested that my contributions would be used to bash our country. Like so many others, I no longer pay for ministry shares because increasingly, this is no longer my church.

It is a difficult choice for the church. Jesus teachings require us to reach out to those in need. Canada can screen and deport illegitimate claimants. So churches can continue to support those whose lives are dévasted by persecution. The US has chosen for a time to adopt policies that will exclude legitimate refugees. The CRC is right in joining with other churches in petioning the government on behalf of refugees. This allows the church to continue acts of mercy.

Recently, professionally printed signs in Spanish, Arabic, and English, welcoming newcomers from "wherever", have popped up on a block where my wife and I have been welcoming new neighbors for nearly 50 years. We don't know of any neighbors who were not welcomed and none who speak anything but English except an Asian family whose children were our daughters' playmates way back when, so the signs appear to be a political statement and somewhat "holier than thou".

This message from Canada seems to be holier than thou, too. We love Canadians and Canada (which we can see from our city parks, as well as across Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River, and hear, when their trains honk in the quiet evenings), but I was made aware in an attention-grabbing way some years ago that Canada has policies with respect to foreigners, too. (I'd be interested to hear if this policy has changed.)

After crossing the Blue Water Bridge from Port Huron to Sarnia with two charter buses filled with college geology students on a one-day field trip, the immigration officer boarded with the usual question, "Where were you born?" When Paul, an excellent student and a gentleman, said, "Poland", he was not allowed to continue the trip. He could pay a non-refundable $10 fee to apply for a visa that would take an unknown amount of time to process or go back to the U.S. While the other bus waited, I took him back to the U.S. side with my bus and dropped him off at a location where someone could come up from the Detroit area and pick him up. Pardon my ignorance, but it never occurred to me that if I could freely cross the border my students would not be able to, too.

Soon after, I wrote the Canadian Consul in Detroit about this sad experience that, in addition to the embarrassment for Paul, the annoyance for the enthusiastic students who were delayed, and the expense of tolls for an extra trip over the river and back, wasted a lot of our field trip time requiring cancelling a stop, and received the first of numerous quarterly reports from Canadian immigration. These indicated the rules for visitors from each listed country, and for some countries, particularly Middle Eastern ones, a visitor had to apply for a visa and include five photos. Today I have to have a passport to visit Canada, but maybe it would be easier now for Paul from Poland or my Arab friends to visit. Do you think?

The first comment suggests that it's time for CPD and OSJ to become independent agencies. After reading this article, I am led to wonder the same thing about the entire Canadian CRC.

I intended to add that I understand why I have to have a passport now to visit Canada, and have no quarrel with that policy. Also, the point about the incident with Polish Paul was to indicate that Canada has rules that affect visitors (and presumably immigrants), and they do not treat all the same, unless things have changed. Evidently Polish were given special attention at the time.

I will second Doug VandeGriend's proposal. I think we should all do what we can, personally, to fight against evil and wrongs, but I wish the CRCNA leadership would discontinue their political activity. They often align with those who endorse and promote behavior that many CRC members and other Christians consider abhorrent, and those who support legislation that restricts the religious freedom of those with whom they disagree.