1st Session, 42nd Parliament,
Volume 150, Issue 101

Thursday, March 2, 2017
The Honourable George J. Furey, Speaker

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship

United States—Safe Third Country Agreement

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, my question is to the leader and my question is on the safe third country agreement.

Leader, you spent a lot of your life on these issues and you are very much aware of the safe third country rule. As you are aware, for many years we did not have the safe third country rule with the United States because we had very serious concerns, especially during the previous sanctuary period when refugees were coming from Central America and they had challenges in the U.S.

Our safe third country agreement with the United States states that since both Canada and the U.S. are both safe countries to land, refugees making claims at a border crossing at a land border with the U.S. must be turned away. The way I understand it is if they come to an official border, they will immediately be sent back.

The assumption of that agreement was that our neighbours to the South will continue to have refugee policies that will be able to help those most in need. Unfortunately, we can no longer make that assumption with the present administration’s executive orders halting immigration from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days. I know this executive order is being reconsidered, but there is also the stopping of resettlement of refugees for 120 days.

Leader, isn’t it time that we examine the safe third country agreement with the United States?

Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): I thank the honourable senator for her question. She has long experience in this area, both before her appointment to the Senate and since.

I would like to point out that the safe third country agreement is an important piece of the architecture of Canada’s refugee determination process.

As all senators will know, our commitments on refugee determination are through an international treaty. Therefore, we have treaty obligations to those who seek refuge in Canada when they arrive.

The Canada-United States Safe Third Country Agreement is, as the senator rightly points out, an agreement made between the Government of Canada and the Government of the United States to ensure that adjudication of claims is made in the country of first arrival. There are exceptions, however, as the agreement provides for where there are relatives in Canada. I believe 98 per cent of the exceptions are with regard to relatives. It is also true this is the case for claimants who present themselves at border crossings.

The situation that we have outside of border crossings is being monitored closely by the department. There have been and will continue to be high-level engagement with our American friends on the issue of irregular movement, but at this stage the Government of Canada, while obviously monitoring the situation closely, believes that the safe third country agreement remains an important piece of our bilateral architecture with the United States. I want to assure all senators that the Government of Canada’s commitment to refugee protection remains undiminished.

Senator Jaffer: Leader, thank you very much for your answer. I know this is a very difficult issue. I know that the government will continue to re-examine how long we will have this agreement.

Leader, every day I get three to four phone calls from Muslims who are asking if they should go to the United States. What will happen? Will our country be there to support them if they get detained? I’m talking about Canadians. It’s a very sensitive issue for me, and I hope I can express it well.

These days, it feels like there’s a Canadian who is a Muslim and then there is the rest of Canadians. If you are a Canadian who’s a Muslim that goes to the United States and then gets detained and gets asked all kinds of questions, it feels like there is nobody, your government is not standing behind you.

Leader, I understand there are issues of sovereignty and I understand that Muslims don’t need to go to the United States, but there are all kinds of reasons why they may be going to the United States. They may have families; they may be studying there; they may have work; they may lose their job if they don’t go there. There are all kinds of reasons why people go to the States. It is our neighbour. It doesn’t feel like our government is standing up to say, “If you treat one Canadian unfairly, we will stand up, because we stand up for all Canadians.”

When will our government stand up strongly and say a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian?

Senator Harder: I thank the honourable senator for her question. I believe that the government is standing up and saying that, certainly with respect to legislation before this very chamber with regard to citizenship.

With regard to the assurance for Canadians that our consular services are available to Canadians who feel, whether in the United States or elsewhere, that their rights and freedoms are being inappropriately challenged, that’s why we have the infrastructure of consular services to address those issues.

With regard to the tone questions which are part of the question that you have asked, I want to assure the honourable senator that these are issues that are dealt with at the highest level of this government with the new administration. I would want to assure Canadians that the Government of Canada is fully committed to the easy movement of Canadians — and Americans, frankly — across our border, because we have both economic and social intercourse that is important for our families, our work and our sense of space here in North America.

This is a subject of high importance, and I thank the honourable senator for raising the concerns.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship

United States—Safe Third Country Agreement

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: My question is a follow-up. Leader, when a young person who has trained a lot travels with his team from Quebec for sports, and his team goes on but he is the only one stopped because he’s a Muslim, I am being asked by his community: How has our government stood up for that young boy?

I have no doubt that Minister Goodale and our Prime Minister are doing everything possible behind the scenes to say that every Canadian is equal. But how do we assure the young boy, whose whole career is based in sports, that he will no longer be stopped; or that when he is stopped, our government will publicly stand up and say, “This is not what we will accept”?

Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): I thank the honourable senator for her question. As her earlier question suggested, there is an issue of sovereignty here in terms of sovereign right of a country to determine the rules and the processes of entry.


I would note that the kind of issue you raise has been raised in the context of Americans returning to America as well. I do think that this is early in the administration, and I would hope that the process of the executive order that we anticipate in the coming days and the management of that executive order can assure both Canadians and any arrivals to the United States of fair and equal treatment.