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Asylum seekers cross into Canada from the US border near a checkpoint on Roxham Road near Hemmingford, Quebec.

REUTERS/Christinne Muschi

Canada’s top court says US safe for refugees – more or less

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that the Safe Third Country Agreement, which governs refugee migration between Canada and the United States, is constitutional. Refugee groups had said the US was not a “safe” country and that returning refugees who fled north violated the Canadian Charter’s Section 7 guarantee of “life, liberty, and personal security.” The court said otherwise.

The decision follows the March deal struck between Canada and the US to close the irregular border crossings not covered by the 2002 agreement. Refugee migration experts warned the amendment would make life more dangerous for refugees, and eight migrants died soon after while trying to cross the St. Lawrence River to reach the US from Canada. Data from the US Customs and Border Protection before and after the March deal show an initial downturn in migrant encounters after the deal but an increase in May. Canadian data is pending, but Ottawa has acknowledged that the amendment will be tough to enforce and that the use of clandestine irregular routes could raise the risks of human trafficking and sexual violence while putting children and elderly migrants at greater risk.

In the court’s decision, Justice Nicholas Kasirer wrote that legislative “safety valves” guard against “real and not speculative risks of refoulement from the United States.” The court also noted that while some of the concerns cited by advocates were legitimate, such as poor holding conditions, migrants had access to “curative measures” like resident permits and humanitarian and compassionate exemptions.

So the STCA passed one hurdle … but the court also sent the case back down to the Federal court for review on the grounds of a possible Section 15 violation of the Charter. Section 15 covers equality under the law and protects from “discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.” Advocates argue migrant rights are being violated based on sex and religion, with the US providing inadequate protections and accommodations for either.

While some want the STCA scrapped, both Washington and Ottawa prefer to keep it in place. Both Joe Biden and Justin Trudeau are facing elections in 2024 and 2025 in which immigration will be center stage. Biden needs to limit the porousness of the northern border, and Trudeau needs to reduce irregular migration via Quebec, a province with huge political sway.

Whether the new STCA deal holds, however, is up to the courts, where round two on its constitutionality is about to get underway.

U.S. President Joe Biden and Canadian PM Justin Trudeau during a bilateral meeting at the North American Leaders' Summit in Mexico City, Mexico, January 10, 2023.

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

Biden-Trudeau talks focus on immigration and defense

Amid the pomp and pageantry accompanying President Joe Biden’s first official visit to Canada, he and Canadian PM Justin Trudeau are looking to make some deals.

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U.S. President Joe Biden speaks with Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as they meet during the Ninth Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, California, U.S., June 9, 2022.

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

US green subsidies pushback to dominate Biden's Canada trip

As Ottawa prepares for a two-day visit by President Joe Biden starting Thursday, Canadians have been speculating about whether he will do something to stop the northward flow of border crossings by undocumented migrants at Roxham Road, Quebec.

That problem is grabbing headlines, but it is nothing next to the border challenges the Americans face, and the Canadians likely have more important requests for Biden. Behind the scenes, the government is focused on getting Americans to help mitigate the impact of the Inflation Reduction Act, the largest climate spending package in US history, which could lead to the loss of capital and jobs from Canada.

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