Court to hear case on whether asylum agreement with U.S. violates charter
Dozens of protesters gathered outside a federal court on Monday called for Canada’s asylum agreement with the United States to be suspended, arguing the U.S. is not a safe country for refugees.
The lunchtime protest in downtown Toronto was timed to coincide with a court hearing of a legal challenge to the Safe Third Country Agreement that prohibits people from entering Canada from the U.S. — and vice versa — at official border crossings and asking for asylum.
The protesters held up signs that read “The USA is not safe” and “Uphold all laws that protect refugees,” at times chanting “Suspend the agreement” and other slogans.
Kikome Afisa said her own experience as an asylum seeker who arrived through the U.S. compelled her to speak out.
Afisa, who left Uganda amid government oppression and violence, said she was detained for four months after crossing into the U.S. from Mexico.
She later came to Canada through an irregular crossing in Quebec, believing it to be safer here. Afisa said she has applied for asylum and is awaiting a hearing.
“The U.S. is not safe ... No help, no shelter, nothing. You can stay outside on the street because you don’t have nothing when you’re a refugee. You come from your country because of some problem, you don’t have money,” she said, at times wiping away tears.
Afisa said there was also the looming fear of being sent back to Uganda. “I’m looking to be safe but they take you back away,” she said.
Another protester, Susie Henderson, said refugees don’t have much choice as to where they arrive, adding recent images of American detention centres should be enough to show the country is not safe for asylum seekers.
“Things like the Safe Third Country (Agreement) just create barriers for people who already face too many barriers,” she said.
As the U.S. has tightened its asylum rules and regulations in recent years, the deal has come under intense scrutiny over concerns that actions taken by the Trump administration no longer make the U.S. a safe harbour for those seeking asylum.
In turn, when Canada rejects people at the border, their charter rights are being violated, advocacy groups and the individual litigant in the case are arguing this week as the Federal Court finally hears the challenge begun in 2017.
“Refugee claimants are being detained indefinitely, in conditions that are nothing short of cruel and unusual, simply for seeking protection,” reads one of the memos submitted to the court.
The legal challenge to the agreement was filed after a Salvadoran woman tried to enter Canada at an official border crossing to seek asylum, arguing she was being brutally targeted by gangs at home. She was told she was inadmissible because of the deal.
Kikome Afisa, right, is comforted as she along with others protest outside the Federal Court of Canada building Monday..