This article was authored by the Canadian Immigration Lawyers Association Board of Directors (2023/2024).
The Canadian and US Governments expanded the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) on March 29 and April 15, 2022, respectively, without publicly disclosing it until a year later during US President Joe Biden’s official visit to Ottawa. The revisions then took effect immediately on Saturday, March 25, 2023, at 12:01 a.m. EST. The US Government claimed the lack of public disclosure until recently was to avoid a mass border rush and to ensure it passed their regulations first. However, this lack of transparency and failure to consult with relevant stakeholders is another example of a concerning pattern in the Government’s approach to changes in immigration law. The revised STCA extends its reach to reject and turn away any asylum seeker found within 14 days of crossing any formal or informal points of entry in both directions across land and water.
The Canadian Immigration Lawyers Association (CILA) expresses its disappointment with the timing and roll out of these changes. It’s concerning that these changes were implemented quickly and while there was an ongoing litigation challenging the constitutionality of the STCA before the Supreme Court of Canada. CILA is concerned about the lack of transparency and public consultation regarding negotiations that affect such a vulnerable group in society. The STCA’s expansion will expose vulnerable individuals and families to more danger and potential harm while they attempt to enter Canada and wait out the 14 days to make a Refugee Claim.
CILA believes that alternate solutions, such as allowing claims to be made at ports of entry and then assessed by an independent tribunal and providing support for the IRB to process claims faster, could have been explored instead. The announcement of 15,000 spots for refugees from Central America is commendable, but the expansion of the STCA will also have unintended consequences, such as pressure on immigration operations at regular POEs across Canada (impacting the ability of land borders to process flagpoles and work and study permit applications, which is concerning for all temporary residents, given the existing IRCC inefficiencies and backlogs in processing applications).