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On July 22 the Federal Court of Canada ruled that sending refugee claimants back to the United States under the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The court was asked to consider the case three years ago by The Canadian Council of Churches, the Canadian Council for Refugees, and Amnesty International. The Christian Reformed Church is a member of The Canadian Council of Churches.

Under the 2004 Agreement, refugees who present at a Canada-U.S. border post seeking to make a refugee claim in Canada are denied access to the Canadian refugee system and returned to the United States. It had the effect of people risking crossings outside of official posts.

Mike Hogeterp of the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue said, “we monitor matters like ‘irregular arrivals' that are related to STCA out of a long-term concern for a just, comprehensive, and well-functioning refugee settlement and integration program.” He said the center encouraged a review of the Safe Third Country Agreement three years ago.

“The persistence of irregular arrivals in those three years suggests that there are flaws in the STCA that need to be addressed by Parliament. This Court mandate provides a good opportunity to address those policy flaws and enhance refugee protection.”

The Canadian Council of Churches said in a news release that it welcomed the ruling and although the effect of the Court’s decision doesn’t apply for six months, the release said, “Given that the Court has clearly set out the ways in which detention in the U.S. violates people’s fundamental rights, the organizations call on the government of Canada to immediately stop sending people back to the U.S. under the Safe Third Country Agreement, and not to appeal the decision.”

Peter Noteboom, general secretary of the Canadian Council of Churches and a commissioned pastor with the CRC, was quoted in the release. “The Canadian Council of Churches has long advocated that every human being who is physically present in Canada has a legal right to life, liberty, and security of person under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” he said. “The U.S.-Canada Safe Third Country Agreement stands in the way of guaranteeing those legal rights.”

Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, said in an email to The Banner that while the organizations leading the judicial challenge to the Safe Third Country Agreement recognize there are also problems related to immigration detention in Canada, ”detention in Canada would be determined on an individual basis (inadequately in our view) which is quite different from their fate if returned to the U.S., where the fact of being returned under STCA leads to detention.” She went on to quote, “In the words of the Federal Court: ‘It is my conclusion, based upon the evidence, that ineligible STCA claimants are returned to the U.S. by Canadian officials where they are immediately and automatically imprisoned by U.S. authorities.’"

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