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By: Keaton Peterson
June 26th, 2018
Edmonton, Alberta, June 26, 2018: Virk Law today announced their willingness to provide pro bono legal services to select individuals denied refuge in Canada and are prepared to challenge in the Federal Court of Canada the designation that the USA is a “safe third country” for refugees.

The Canada-US Safe Third Country Agreement
Since 2004, Canada has declared that the USA is a safe third country for refugees per the Canada-US Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA). According to the agreement, which is current domestic law under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, refuge must be claimed in the first state where the claimant can be safe. Therefore, if a claimant arrives in Canada from the US – or vice versa – by an official port of entry, then they are considered to have come from a safe country and cannot seek refuge. Consequently, applicants arriving in Canada by way of the US are returned without consideration for any claim of refugee.

The Right of Refuge
Under both International and Canadian law, a person outside their country of nationality or habitual residence can claim refuge in Canada if they have a well-founded fear of persecution based on any of the five categories of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a social group. This was Canada’s promise when it signed onto the United Nations’ “Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees,” more commonly known as the 1951 Refugee Convention.

The Convention imposes upon signatories the obligation of “non-refoulement,” which prohibits the act of sending a person claiming refuge back to a state where they would be in danger of persecution on any of the five enumerated grounds. People fleeing generalised violence or natural disasters may count as “internally displaced persons” but not as refugees; there must be a well-founded fear of persecution on an enumerated ground. The right of refuge is also established in Sections 95–116 of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (the “IRPA.”)

Repealing, Amending, or Suspending the Third Country Agreement
According to Scott Horne, an immigration lawyer with Virk Law and a naturalised Canadian citizen, the US is, in fact, not safe for everyone, and rejecting an application for refuge on the grounds of the STCA violates refugee rights under international law and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Horne also argues that individual claims made by those entering by way of the United States should be assessed on their own merits and not denied without due process.

The US is No Longer Safe for all Refugees
Recent executive orders in the United States have accelerated the need for a challenge of this provision. Since 2014, the United States has used mass detention of families to deter refugee claimants from making claims in the United States. President Trump’s recent Border Enforcement Order calls for a massive expansion of this system. Individuals may now be detained “on suspicion” of violating federal or state law, including unauthorized entry.

Claimants in the United States face expedited deportation, denial of family reunification, delays in adjudication, and restricted access to legal counsel. As a result of these dangers, refugee claimants coming through the United States have been driven to enter Canada at locations other than ports of entry, which complicates the claim process and, in some cases, results in injury from exposure.

The Canadian Federal Government has received pressure but has refused to amend the agreement
In 2017, Amnesty International and the Canadian Council for Refugees submitted to the Canadian Government a detailed 52-page brief that contested the designation of the US as a Safe Third Country. Although the brief outlined numerous ways that the current US asylum system fails to meet the required international and Canadian legal standards, the government has yet to act.

Virk Law Lawyers offer Pro Bono Support for those denied Refuge in Canada on the grounds of the STCA
The entire Virk Law team stands behind Scott Horne in his decision to commit the time and resources necessary to secure justice for select clients affected by the STCA. Scott and the Virk Law team are prepared to challenge the court on the basis that claims for refuge should be heard on their own merits.

For further information and media availability, please contact: Keaton Peterson at (780)-758-8475.