Our southern neighbors are at a boiling point with a torrent of racial unrest and questions about whether or not the current president will honor the results of the upcoming election. Xenophobia and racism has been a central theme of the current administration. As a result of this, the United States is no longer a safe country for many people of color, immigrants, and refugees.
In 2004, Canada and the USA entered into an pact called the Canada-US Safe Third Country Agreement. The central purpose of this agreement was to control the flow of refugees, mandating that refugees entering into either country make their asylum claim in the first country they arrive in. That is, a refugee could not arrive in the USA, and then travel to Canada to make an asylum claim.
This agreement requires that signatory countries have a good human rights record. Countries are also required to have signed onto the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1984 Convention Against Torture. Refugees are extremely vulnerable as they are by definition, not protected by their own governments.
One does not have to look to hard in order to find obvious violations of this agreement by the United States, by leaders both current and past.
Torture was standard operating procedure during the (illegitimate) Iraq war under George Bush, and cheered on by American news commentators on a nightly basis. One right wing war hawk, John Bolton, was a key proponent of the use of torture during the Bush Administration. He was then given a spot in the White House under the current Trump administration as a national security advisor. Although he has since left the administration on less-than-friendly terms, this signifies that the current president does not consider human rights to be relevant when choosing his team.
Stephen Miller, the not-so-subtle white nationalist, also currently enjoys a seat at the table of the Trump administration. Indeed, he has been very influential in any race or immigration related policy in recent years. He is known to be a powerful mastermind behind such programs as the Muslim travel ban, refugee intake reduction, hiring over 10,000 more ICE agents, and separating children from their parents at the Mexico-US border. Miller also went as far as to block a white house study that found that refugees had a net positive effect on government revenues.
Clearly, with people like this in the White House, the USA is not a safe country for immigrants and refugees.
The Covid-19 pandemic deepens the problem too. Immigrants and refugees are more likely to contract the virus for a variety of reasons. Those unfortunate enough to be detained in ICE detention facilities are often kept in over crowded and unsanitary conditions. An astounding 20% or more of detainees have tested positive for the virus. How is that not torture?
The Canadian Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) requires the continual review of all countries designated as safe third countries. Canada’s federal court has made a landmark ruling that the Safe Third Country Agreement infringes on the rights of asylum seekers coming into Canada. This ruling has been suspended for six months in order to give Parliament time to respond. “Refugee claimants turned away at the Canada-U.S. border face grave human rights violations in the United States, notably atrocious conditions in immigration detention,” said Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada. Have we heard much from parliament about this?
Abolishing the Safe Third Country isn’t an outlandish call to action either. Refugees from Haiti that were resettled in the USA are already trying to escape to Canada. This is due to the very real fear of being sent back to Haiti due to president Trump’s decision to end their protected status in the USA.
It is clear that Canada must disband from this agreement for the sake of refugees fleeing persecution from around the world. Even if a Biden administration successfully takes power in January, it is too late. The damage has been done already – xenophobia and racism have been unleashed by Trump. White supremacists have been emboldened, and are on the hunt looking to recruit from conspiratorial minded groups.
Canada is not immune to racism and xenophobia, but we will be better suited to take in refugees for a long time to come.