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The 2002 Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) with the United States has become a hot button issue for the Canadian federal election.
Different perspectives abound—ranging from abolition to strengthening the deal.
The STCA, according to the Government of Canada website, states that “Under the Agreement, refugee claimants are required to request refugee protection in the first safe country they arrive in,” which is a deal some of the parties now find distasteful.
Part of the issue is the loophole that currently exists in law that allows migrants who illegally cross the Canadian border from the United States to automatically claim the title of a refugee, incentivizing many to avoid going to a port of entry.
This loophole is the cause of the high levels of border crossings during the last couple of years. Crossings spiked after President Donald Trump’s election in the United States—from 23,350 crossings in 2016 to more than 47,000 in 2017.
Many claiming refugee status are under the impression that the American president’s administration would send them back to their native countries (as they were previously refugees/immigrants to the United States.
NDP leader, Jagmeet Singh, shared the view advocating for asylum seekers to Canada worried about the Trump administration should be given refugee status at ports of entry, previously denied due to lack of cause.
“[Refugees] are no longer safe under the Trump administration — and we need to do something about it,” Singh said in June 2018, referring to a widely condemned policy made by the Trump administration to separate migrant children from their parents.
The NDP would like to suspend the STCA which they said would increase “safety, security and efficiency” on the border, as nobody would have to cross the border illegally under their plan.
The Green Party and their leader, Elizabeth May, agreed to scrap the STCA. May herself is concerned over whether the United States is a safe place for any refugee in the first place.
Elizabeth May had been quoted on the Green Party website stating that if Canada turns away those claiming refugee status then “we might as well just build a wall.”
“Canada needs to step up to the plate and accept that many of these people are fleeing persecution or disaster for the second time,” May said in March. “We need to allow them to go through the same processing as refugees would if they were to present at regular points of entry, not add to their suffering.”
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has rejected many attempts to suspend or alter aspects of the STCA.
Instead of scrapping the agreement the Liberals have instead attempted to better enforce the rules already governing refugee claims. This has been done through such measures as the intelligibility rule that rejects refugee claims from those who have already claimed refugee status in other countries, including the United States.
The 2019 Liberal budget also allocated $1.2 billion for the Immigration and Refugee Board and the Canada Border Service Agency to try and fast-track refugee claims and tighten border security. This bridges the gap between half solving the problem of the refugee loophole while also not fully dissuading further illegal border crossings.
The Conservative Party leader, Andrew Scheer, and his party takes a much different approach wanting instead to close the loophole in the laws that have been attracting illegal immigrants into Canada.
Conservatives are most concerned with the system being gamed and allowing immigrants to fast-track residency and citizenship by simply crossing the border and declaring refugee status.
“Among the people I hear from most often on this point are new Canadians themselves, people who have played by the rules and arrived in Canada fair and square,” Scheer said to supporters in May.
“[New Canadians] are most offended at Trudeau’s status-quo, where some are able to jump queues, exploit loopholes and skip the line.”
The current divide is not only on what the most effective policy is but what the actual problems being addressed are.
Liberals and Conservatives are in effect in agreement on the issue that the immigration system is being used and abused undermining the principles of the STCA.
The Greens and NDP are concerned over whether the current system is inefficient and the STCA needs to be scrapped in order to accommodate more refugee claimants.