U of M law students want Safe Third Country pact scrapped

Law students at the University of Manitoba are banding together with their peers across the country Saturday to end the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement.

Law schools across Canada conducting research Saturday as part of push to kill 2004 agreement

Law students at the University of Manitoba Saturday morning. (Maddie Pearlman)

Law students at the University of Manitoba are banding together with their peers across the country Saturday to end the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement.

The students are holding a research-a-thon and will draft legal memos as part of a nationwide bid to end the 2004 pact, which requires asylum-seekers to apply for refugee status in the first "safe" country in which they arrive.

That means Canada must send back claimants entering the country via its land border with the U.S.

But the students and over 200 lawyers across the country involved in the research-a-thon say the United States is no longer a safe country in light of President Donald Trump's sweeping ban on Syrian refugees and 90-day ban on travellers from predominately Muslim countries.

That executive order is now under a temporary restraining order, after a Washington state judge ordered a halt "on a nationwide basis" to enforcement of the ban Friday.

"This [travel ban] isn't reflective of what we want the world to be and what we want our country to be," said Maddie Pearlman, who is organizing the Winnipeg research-a-thon.

Pearlman said students at 22 law schools across the country will be reviewing case law, journal articles and policy on Saturday, which will be compiled and passed on to advocate groups like the Canadian Council for Refugees.

"A lot of law schools and law students are very concerned about the treatment of refugees," she said.

Bashir Khan, a Winnipeg immigration lawyer, calls the Safe Country Agreement undemocratic. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

Bashir Khan, a Winnipeg immigration and refugee lawyer, said the agreement is putting refugees' lives in danger.

You wonder, how the hell did something so significant get into Canadian law?- Lawyer Bashir Khan 

"You wonder, how the hell did something so significant get into Canadian law?"

Khan said the Safe Third Country Agreement was never initially scrutinized in the House of Commons or discussed in the Senate — it came from an Order in Council.

Khan, who is representing two frostbitten refugees who lost limbs after walking in the bitter cold to Canada on Christmas Eve, said asylum seekers will resort to desperate measures to get into Canada.

"They're going to go through open fields. They could [lose] life and limbs."

The Liberal government said this week it would not suspend the agreement or take in additional refugees.

About the Author

Austin Grabish

Reporter

Austin Grabish landed his first byline when he was just 18. Before joining CBC, he reported for several outlets with work running across the country. He studied human rights in university and holds a degree and diploma in communications. Connect with him here: austin.grabish@cbc.ca