Home | About Us | Events | Links | Search
Login | | Visitor
  Home > Campaigns > National Campaigns > Canada-wide > Safe Third Country
No One Is Illegal - Van
   Local Campaigns
National Campaigns
Safe Third Country
Security Certificates
Mohamed Cherfi
Migrant Workers
Public Struggles
Indigenous Sovereignty
Legal Resources
Site Map



No One Is Illegal

The No One is Illegal campaign is in full confrontation with Canadian colonial border policies, denouncing and taking action to combat racial profiling of immigrants and refugees, detention and deportation policies, and wage-slave conditions of migrant workers and non-status people.

We struggle for the right for our communities to maintain their livelihoods and resist war, occupation and displacement, while building alliances and supporting indigenous sisters and brothers also fighting theft of land and displacement.

contact NOII-Van:
email: noii-van@resist.ca
tel: 604-682-3269 +7149



In December 2001 the Canadian and US governments signed the Smart Border Declaration, which included negotiation of a Safe Third Country Agreement. The main effect is that asylum seekers who land in the US (a common transit point when travelling to Canada) would no longer be allowed to make their way to Canada to claim refugee status. This is yet another way to create a fortress in North America similar to Fortress Europe, reducing the number of refugee claims in Canada by an estimated 40%.

This is the most draconian measure on the rights of migrants in Canadian history as it completely unjustly exclusionary and completely robbs the rights of migrants to self-determine where they would like to re-settle, while contending with some of the most dehumanizing refugee practices in the US.


Legal Challenge to Safe Third Country Agreement

For immediate release, 29 December 2005

Toronto. The Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR), Amnesty International (AI) and the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC) launched today a legal challenge of the Safe Third Country Agreement, which went into force one year ago.

“We cannot stand by and see the government close the door on refugees, on the pretext that the United States can be relied on to protect them,” said Liz McWeeny, CCR President.  “Canadians know that non-citizens’ rights are not necessarily protected by the US government, now of all times.  We are asking the courts to rule that the Canada-US Safe Third Country Agreement is unconstitutional and in breach of international law. The US was not safe for Maher Arar, and it isn’t safe for refugees.”

The three organizations, joined by an asylum seeker in the US who is affected by the agreement, are asking the Federal Court to overturn the designation of the United States as a safe third country under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.  They are arguing that the US does not meet the criteria for a safe third country because it does not respect its obligations under the Convention Against Torture and the Refugee Convention and that by returning refugee claimants to the US for determination, Canada is violating its international obligations towards refugees and their Charter rights to life, liberty and security of the person and to equality.

“This agreement is said to enhance the international protection of refugees. On the contrary, the agreement puts the lives of refugees at peril,” said Gloria Nafziger, Refugee Coordinator at Amnesty International.  “There have been ongoing concerns that the US falls short of meeting its international obligations with respect to the protection of refugees and since the agreement took effect one year ago, new provisions in the United States have resulted in a continuing erosion of refugee rights.”

“Canadian churches have long been active sponsors of refugees in Canada, and over the years the Canadian Council of Churches has turned to the courts when the rights of refugees are threatened. We believe that this is an extremely important opportunity to see that the protections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are available to all people in Canada, and that access to those protections is not weakened,” said Karen Hamilton, General Secretary of the Canadian Council of Churches.

The CCR also released today a report, Closing the Front Door on Refugees: Report on the First Year of the Safe Third Country Agreement, showing that many of the worst fears about the Canada-US agreement are being realized.  With the Canadian land border closed to most refugees, far fewer refugees are able to find protection in Canada.  Instead, some are detained and deported from the US; some are forced to live without status in the US, in fear of arrest; some turn to smugglers to help them find a way to safety.  The number of people claiming refuge in Canada is lower than at any time since the mid-1980s.  The drop in claims made at the land border is especially dramatic, with only 51% as many claims as last year.  Colombians have been particularly affected.  The Canadian government does not appear interested in monitoring the ways in which the Agreement undermines the rights of refugees.

The report can be found on the CCR web site at

Ten Reasons Safe Third Country Agreement is a Bad Deal

Source: Canadian Council of Refugees

Beginning December 29, 2004, Canada will close the door on most refugee claimants seeking protection at the US-Canada border. Under a deal between the two countries, the United States will be declared a "safe third country" for refugees. The Canadian Council for Refugees thinks this is a bad deal for refugees and for both Canada and the US. Here's why:

ONE: The US is not safe for refugees because of the risk of detention.
The agreement will force claimants to seek protection in the United States, a country that is not necessarily safe for refugees. Thousands of asylum seekers, including children, are held in detention in the US, for months and even years. Those who are detained have reduced chances of getting refugee protection, because it is difficult for detainees just to make a phone call, let alone get the help they need to present their refugee claim adequately. There have recently been widely publicized abuses of detainees in US immigration jails.

TWO: The US is not safe for refugees because some refugees are denied protection.
The US does not always give protection to refugees who need it. Numerous claimants have been recognized as refugees in Canada after having been refused in the US, because of more restrictive rules and interpretation of the refugee definition. Eligibility rules in the US mean that claimants who apply after having been in the US for over a year are denied a hearing. Unlike Canada, the US law does not offer protection to people who face a risk to their life or of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment. If Canada turns away a refugee who is subsequently deported by the US back to persecution, Canada will bear a part of the responsibility for whatever harm comes to the refugee.

THREE: The US is not safe for refugees because of discriminatory practices.
US policies and practices discriminate against some refugees and immigrants on the basis of their nationality, ethnicity or religion. For example, the US detains Haitian claimants based on nationality. People from mainly Muslim countries are also particularly at risk of detention.

FOUR: The US may be about to get even less safe for refugees.
The situation for refugees in the US may well be about to get worse. The US Congress was considering a number of anti-refugee provisions in 2004. While these have not yet passed, they are expected to be back on the Congress agenda in early 2005.

FIVE: The US was not safe for Maher Arar.
Despite being a Canadian citizen, Maher Arar was deported by the US to torture. If the US is not safe even for someone with the relative protection of a Canadian passport, how can we think that it is safe for refugee claimants who have no government to protect them?

SIX: The agreement will make the US-Canada border less secure.
Currently, refugee claimants present themselves at the border in an orderly process, and are interviewed and given a security check. Under the agreement, refugee claimants needing Canada's protection will have to seek ways to cross the border irregularly. This was the experience in Germany when rules were changed in a similar way: overnight claimants stopped making a claim at the border and appeared inside the country. The principal beneficiaries of the safe third country agreement will be smugglers and traffickers.

SEVEN: Refugee claimants may face danger trying to enter Canada.
Irregular border crossings are often dangerous for migrants: each year many die attempting to cross borders around the world. Are we prepared to see an increase in casualties at the border as desperate refugees seek Canada's protection?

EIGHT: The agreement makes the refugee determination process more complicated.
The agreement is going to be difficult to implement. There is no easy way to determine which claimants are entitled to claim in Canada under the terms of the agreement. As a result, instead of spending time on the important question of whether the claimants need protection, Canadian officials will have to divert resources to determining whether the claimants meet the exceptions in the agreement.

NINE: Canada is giving the US a say over our resettlement program in exchange for the agreement
In exchange for signing this deal, the US is being given a say in which refugees are resettled to Canada, as part of an originally secret side-deal. By allowing the US to refer refugees for resettlement, Canada will be giving up its right to decide which refugees are most in need of resettlement. Ironically, the US will have more power to identify refugees for resettlement than Canadian immigration officers, who under the new law cannot consider refugees for resettlement unless they have been referred.

TEN: Canada is slamming the door on refugees.
The goal and the effect of the agreement is to reduce the number of refugees who can claim refugee protection in Canada. By implementing this agreement, Canada joins a sorry group of countries that take the "Not in my backyard" approach to refugees. Even before the introduction of the safe third country agreement, 2004 is set to be the year with the lowest number of refugee claims in Canada in 10 years. Canada receives less than one quarter of one per cent of the world's refugees.


During the Second World War, Canada denied protection to Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution. The slogan from that period was "None is Too Many!" - the answer given by a Canadian official when asked how many Jewish refugees Canada would take. The Canadian Council for Refugees calls the US-Canada agreement a "None is too many" agreement because it is about keeping refugees out, just as we closed the door on Jewish refugees in the 30s and 40s.

No One is Illegal Montreal Media Advisory

Refugee rights demonstrators to protest at Judy Sgro's "technical briefing" in Ottawa

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 29th @ 12:00pm
150 Wellington Street
Contact: 514-591-3171 or noii-montreal@resist.ca

For immediate release --

Today, December 29, 2004, Canada's Safe Third Country Agreement will take effect. This radical change to Canadian refugee policy will prevent asylum seekers from making claims in Canada if they arrive by land via the United States. The net effect of the policy will be to prevent at least 1/3 of all refugee claims from even beingheard. Refugee rights' advocates have denounced the new shift as a "none is too many" policy against refugees. Hundreds of asylum seekers have gathered at border entry points, such as Fort Erie, to attempt to beat the deadline.

In conjunction with Immigration Minister Judy Sgro's "technical briefing" on the Safe Third Country Agreement this morning at the National Press Theatre, refugee rights demonstrators from Ottawa and Montreal will also gather to denounce the Safe Third Country Agreement, and to provide journalists with an "alternative briefing" to the briefing offered by Immigration Canada bureaucrats.

Participants at the alternative briefing will include refugees themselves, from such places as Colombia and Palestine, who will be able to speak first-hand about the effects of policies like "safe third country."

The alternative media briefing on the Safe Third Country Agreement will take place at NOON outside the National Press Theatre (150 Wellington Street) in Ottawa. Unlike the "technical briefing" by Ministerial officials at 11 a.m., the alternative briefing -- by refugees and activists -- will allow cameras, and will comprehensively address the negative effects of "safe third country".

For more information: 514-591-3171 or noii-montreal@resist.ca


Safe Third Country Agreement Articles

1. A GATED COMMUNITY, by Rick Goldman, Montreal Gazette Op-Ed - December 29, 2004

by Lisa Priest, Globe and Mail - December 28, 2004


Safe third country in Parliamentary session

February 22, 2005

On February 22nd, the Sanctuary Coalition was granted 90 minutes with the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration on the topic of The Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA).

May Jo Leddy and Jack Costello, members of the Coalition, brought Cesar Perez (civil engineer) and Paula Gomez (lawyer), both Colombian refugees, to join in offering testimony from their personal perspectives as claimants who came to Canada after failing to be accepted in the USA. Cesar and his wife are already accepted as CRs. Paula, her husband and their baby are waiting for their hearing.

Jack focused on three points:

1. A challenge to the premise that the US is on an equal footing with Canada with regard to asylum seekers and refugee claimants.

a. He summarized some of the key CCR points in the " Ten Reasons why..." flyer.
b. He mentioned the recent REAL ID legislation in the US, noting: (i) the substance of its bias vs. refugees--especially in the light of protective US legislation already in place, and (ii) the ungrounded association of  refugees with US security concerns.

2. He then asked the Committee to view the STCA in the light of two other Canadian policies and practices: interdiction and private sponsorship. He delineated the features of both interdiction and the steady, growing difficulties--and diminished numbers--in private sponsorship and pointed out the failures reflected in these programs.
    Leaning on Rick Goldman's article,  he proposed that the three taken together represent a clear choice (or drift?) by our government and its agencies towards Canada becoming a "gated community" with regard to refugees and all asylum seekers. We do not seek to protect them; we seek to protect us...even when there is little or no reason for this stance of fear and suspicion.

3. Finally, he proposed that a clear effect of much of this policy and practice (especially in STCA and Interdiction) is a loss of the face-to-face encounter with claimants--a personal dialogue that is implicitly required in international law and ovbiously required in a humane and justice-seeking approach to persons at risk who are seeking safety.    He commented on the clear loss of a  "culture of compassion" (in comparison to our recent past)  in our government's forfeiting of this personal encounter with the people seeking to enter Canada. He noted it was part of a larger falling off among developed countries. He closed by asking the Committee to recommend not only careful monitoring at the borders, but that the STCA be  simply withdrawn and terminated.

Mary Jo Leddy focussed on three points:
1. the history of how her own Irish relatives came to Canada in the 1820s, landing at Port Hope (she made much of this name) and proceeding to the Peterborough/Lindsay area. She noted the huge role of Peter Robinson (after whom Peterborough was named) in treating the desperate Irish with kindness and with effectiveness in helpign them start a new life. The living memory of that for Canada...

    She then noted the history of the refusal of Jewish refugees and the internment of Japanese Canadians a the time of WWII as the dark side of Canadian history in this area of greeting newcomers and even citizens in need of protection. She called the Committee members to see today as "a decisive moment"  in the history of Canada--in which they themselves are making history--either through silent complicity with bad policy (STCA) or with efforts to receive refugees postively, justly, humanely. It is an historic moment...and we are now making the history our grandchildren will read--and live. What shall it be?

She ended this point by earnestly imploring the Committee members to INSIST on being given all the facts by the government on its border activities, and not resting till they were content they had the facts. We have to end secrecy and lack of accountability...

2. Mary Jo then turned to her concrete experience at Romero House and described the situation with the Colombians who have come, and especially the ones who flooded Romero House, Hamilton House and other settlement centres in December. She had called Molly Short on Feb. 21, some of our Fort Erie colleagues, and the Red Cross people at Pearson Airport, so she was able to offer very fresh numbers on the decline of refugee claimants at our borders. She said why many were afraid to approach the border and why they were being advised by some of our US colleagues not to do so for fear of being noted and detained by US authorities. She concluded: "We have made people at risk frightened not only of the authorites in their own country; we have made them frightened of the authorities in ours..."

3. Mary Jo ended by letting the Committee know that there was no doubt that many Canadians would not stand by and just watch if there develops a clear movement in the direction of trafficking and smuggling across the border. "We will answer government injustice with a deeper justice--and the members should be aware of how deeply abhorrent this STCA is in terms of denying basic justice to people at risk".
     She showed them the picture of the mural "of hope" (20 x 30 feet), painted by a refugee and intern, on the outside of the Romero Centre on Bloor St. She invited each Committee member to visit Romero House if and when they come to Toronto.

Cesar Perez  described why he and his wife had to leave Colombia due to threats of the paramilitaries connected with his work. How they had to go to wherever they could, and it was a US visa they got most easily. He described their time in New York, how lawyers were fleecing Colombians--with little being accomplished for them by way of gaining US status. He noted the large financial cost and the spirit of "just not feeling welcomed" that pervaded most of his Colombian associates and himself while in the US. "The US govenment simply does not want to believe--or say out loud--that Uribe [president of Colombia] cannot or will not protect the people. And there is no protection you can count on in Colombia."
    "We came to Canada because we knew we were always  anxious, because we knew we were not really safe there from being sent back." He ended with some marvellous and positive statements about the new life he and his wife are experiencing here. He is an engineer with expertise in concrete, and is now working on the new Opera House being built in Toronto.

Paula Gomez shared a similar story of constant uncertainty in the US but with more emphasis on the TPStatus and the huge difficulties in getting the US government to accept that Colombians are legitimately in need of at least temporary protection. She was in the New York area for many months. She saw that her situation was reflected in most other Colombians. When she was turned down for a TP certificate she got in touch with JRS--Canada, was led (on the phone) to be in touch with Romero House and the rest is a very happy 8 months here--for her, her husband and their baby.

The questions from the Committee members were all prefaced by expressions of gratitude--especially to Mary Jo and Paula and Cesar for "putting them in touch" with the real experience of people who had felt the need to leave the US for Canada.

Questions were thoughtful, and perhaps not entirely unexpected in the eyes of seasoned CCR folks. Some examples...

--Are fewer refugees being admitted to Canada?

--Are there fewer claimants being being admitted or are there fewer refugees being generated world-wide, pure and simple? What facts are generating the statistics which often fluctuate hugely?

--How would we suggest the Canadian government act to make things better? {Jack went through the 3 areas of STCA, interdiction and private-sponsorship very briefly noting concrete recommendations. On STCA he noted: get the facts, as MJL just said,  require strict and frequent monitoring at the borders, and work to end the STCA entirely--its is beneficial and necessary for no one, not the refugees, not the US, and not Canada)

--Is the US as bad as you make out? It sounds like no refugee is treated fairly there? [No! Many are--but we have focused on the system-based problems and also on the problems for particular groups of people. As for good points re: US practice, to their credit the Americans have an appeal process in place; compare that to our "refusal of appeal" situation despite the IRPA legislation we have in place.
We also noted in CBSA's favour that although the December 23 events reflected very badly on them, most recent reports are that those approaching the border now are being treated with care--often in a kindly way]

--How about balancing protection for refugees and security for Canada? [This is a "work in progress" since it is still not ideal that both protection and security interest must be satisfied at the same time effectively by the same people. The relationship of CBSA and CIC in this work was flagged. Just hinted at was the deepr and usually avoided question: What precisely is the "security" risk record for refugees coming to Canada? We have ONE colourful and flagrant instance--and Ron Haggart (G&M, Feb. 22/05) notes he was "eccentric". Terrorists don't choose to enter as refugees. No historyof that. So why can't we be more disciplined, empirical, and real, in our judgments of concerns in the area of security?]

--Meili Faille ended the session with a presentation in which she made a series of observations and declared her concerns. She revealed a great knowledge of the situation with refugees and a sympathy for our CCR work and efforts.

Please forgive the length of this report.

Let me end by saying we were very well received. We were listened to with respect and I would say a real generosity of spirit.

Mary Jo Leddy and I were  extremely pleased to have brought two
refugees to the session who spoke in their own voice. There were many observers (far more than I expected),  and some MPs and their assistants (Sam Bulte, Tony Martin NDP)  came by to wish us well, and greet us when we left.

We hope it will prove to have been a positive meeting for the members too. This will be seen by whether if helps to keep the Safe Third Country Agreement alive for them as an issue needing attention.

I want to thank our CCR staff for providing almost 90% of the
documentation I leaned on in both my preparation and my presentation. So--thanks Janet and team in Montreal.

Jack Costello
JRS--Canada and Sanctuary Coalition