The House

Midweek podcast: The future of the Safe Third Country Agreement

This week on The House midweek podcast, Chris Hall sits down with immigration lawyers Alastair Clarke and Éric Taillefer to talk about how to deal with the asylum seekers illegally crossing the border into Canada.
A family arrives in Canada through an irregular crossing at Roxham Road in Lacolle, Que. (David Zinman/Aaron Lakoff)

No matter what decision the government arrives at regarding the flow of asylum seekers at the border, many immigration lawyers say they doubt it will be permanent fix.

Last year, more than 20,000 asylum seekers crossed illegally into Canada. The trend seems to be continuing this year, with about 5,000 crossing so far.

The government has been hard-pressed to find a working approach to this steady stream of migrants. Some of the ideas being floated include designating the entire Canada-U.S. border an official crossing, deploying more resources to popular spots for illegal crossings and addressing issues with the Safe Third Country Agreement.

That agreement — which requires individuals to claim asylum in the first 'safe' country they land in — has been the subject of debate.

Now the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is reviewing a proposal to amend the border pact to manage asylum seekers, but Canada's immigration minister insists no formal talks on the topic are happening right now.

"DHS is currently reviewing the proposal made by Canada to amend the Safe Third Country Agreement, but we have no decision to announce at this time," said a U.S. government spokesperson in an email.

Part of the issue with the agreement in its current form is that it was drafted at a time when both countries shared a similar view on refugees, said Alastair Clarke, a Winnipeg-based immigration lawyer.

But now Canada is "very distinct from the United States," he told The House.

The model needs to be revised to account for changes in the politics of both countries, he said.

Dealing with the agreement may not check all the boxes, however.

"Canada signed the refugee convention and we have some obligations to respect regarding that," immigration lawyer Éric Taillefer told The House.

He added that any ideas brought to the table have to fall within legal constraints and international agreements.

"We have a box that we have to think in and around."

No matter what the government does, Taillefer said tackling migration issues will be one of the great political challenges of the 21st century.

"People are still going to come to Canada," he said.

On The House midweek podcast, Chris Hall talks to two immigration lawyers about what, if anything, could be done to improve the Safe Third Country Agreement.