Denying Entry to Asylum Seekers Does Not Make Canada Safe

Published: Winter 2021    |    By:  Patti Tamara Lenard |    Volume 69, No.12



The Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the United States was signed in 2004, in the wake of 9/11, and regulates the movement of asylum seekers between them. The Agreement certifies that, because Canada and the United States are both “safe”, an asylum seeker must make their claim in their country of arrival – that is, an asylum seeker who arrives in Canada must make their claim in Canada, and an asylum seeker who arrives in the United States must make their claim there. However, the relative safety of the United States has been the subject to legal proceedings twice, once nearly immediately after the Agreement was adopted, and presently. In 2020, the Federal Court has agreed that the United States is no longer safe for refugees and asylum seekers, and that by enforcing the STCA Canada is complicit in the violation of severe harm against highly vulnerable individuals. In particular, said the judge, Canada has violated “section 7” charter rights of asylum seekers that are turned back. Section 7 guarantees the right to life, liberty and security, to everyone. My contribution assesses the role that the STCA plays in securing the border between the US and Canada, and evaluates the merits/demerits of remaining committed to it (I can very little reason to remain committed to it) – all the while being attentive to ongoing legal proceedings.

About the Author

Patti Tamara Lenard is Associate Professor of Ethics in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Ottawa. She is the author of Trust, Democracy and Multicultural Challenges (Penn State, 2012) and How should democracies fight terrorism? (Polity Press, 2020). Her work has been published in a range of journals, including the American Political Science Review, Ethics and International Affairs, Review of Politics, and Perspectives on Politics. She is presently completing a manuscript (with Peter Balint) titled Debating Multiculturalism, under contract with Oxford University Press. In Ottawa, she runs a small organization called Rainbow Haven, which sponsors, settles and advocates for LGBTQ refugees.