Manitoba NDP joins call to end controversial Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement

Scrapping Safe Third Country Agreement ‘immediate and tangible’ way to protect refugees, says Nahanni Fontaine

Would be an 'immediate and tangible’ way to protect refugees, says Nahanni Fontaine

NDP immigration critic Nahanni Fontaine wants the province to demand the federal government scrap the Safe Third Country agreement. (CBC)

The provincial New Democrats want Premier Brian Pallister to demand the federal government immediately suspend or revoke a controversial refugee pact between Canada and the United States.

The call to scrap the Safe Third Country Pact follows similar requests from advocates and immigration lawyers, along with law students at the University of Manitoba, who say it compels asylum seeks to risk their lives crossing the border.

The PC government told CBC they have no pans to lobby the federal government to bow out of the international agreement.

"The Safe Third Country Agreement is supported by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to prevent so-called 'asylum shopping.' The Manitoba government supports the government of Canada's position to uphold this agreement in order to preserve the integrity and fairness of the immigration system," said Manitoba's Immigration Minister Ian Wishart in a written statement.

Under the agreement, which came into effect in 2004, asylum seekers must apply for refugee status in the first "safe" country they arrive in unless they meet specific exemptions, such as having family in Canada.

Refugees can circumvent the Safe Third Country Agreement if they enter Canada from a location that is not an official port of entry, such a private field that may straddle the Canada-U.S. border. 

Once refugees have entered Canada this way, Canada Border Services cannot turn them back to the United States.

People who have arrived as part of a recent surge of asylum seekers in Emerson, Man., including the 22 who arrived on the weekend, are refugees utilizing this loophole.

Manitobans outraged, say NDP

NDP immigration critic Nahanni Fontaine said scrapping the agreement will allow these refugees to enter Canada through an official port of entry, which is a much safer route, especially in winter. 

"We believe that this will be an immediate and tangible way to effectively deal with the influx of refugees that are forced to take very treacherous journeys to Canada seeking asylum," said Fontaine on Friday.

"I know that Manitobans who read that story of that little two-year-old who would rather die in the snow than continue to walk on this journey are outraged by that."

Scrapping the pact will also help the people of Emerson, she said, who are dealing with what she called a "critical situation."

She said she expects more refugees to flow into the small community of fewer than 700 people, especially as temperatures warm up.

Fontaine also called on the federal government to provide more material supports to Emerson.

"When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted that we were welcoming and we are inclusive, I think that we all had this collective moment of pride as Canadians. But we have to go beyond that," she said.

"We need to be able to provide additional resources to Emerson."

Manitoba's premier said Monday the province continues to welcome refugees but the federal government needs to provide more resources to make their settlement successful.

"We are a society that very much understands the importance of valuing diversity and we treasure it here," Pallister said.

"We also need the federal government to act as a partner with us. In the case, for example, of the Syrian refugees, one-year funding is simply not adequate."

Fontaine added she believes the premier should ask Trudeau to do away with a cap on refugees arriving from Syria and Iraq.

In December, the federal government put a cap of 1,000 new applicants under a particular type of private sponsorship for 2017.

The Progressive Conservatives say Manitoba received about 2,200 privately sponsored refugees last year and would be able to accommodate about the same number again this year.


Laura Glowacki is a reporter based in Ottawa. Previously, she worked as a reporter in Winnipeg and as an associate producer for CBC's Metro Morning in Toronto. Find her on Twitter @glowackiCBC and reach her by email at

with files from Alana Cole