The federal Liberal government says Canada will not take in additional refugees this year, or suspend a deal that prevents migrants who arrive from the United States from seeking asylum here, even though U.S. President Donald Trump has said no new refugees will be accepted in his country for the next four months.
Legal experts say the executive order issued by Mr. Trump last Friday clearly violates the Safe Third Country Agreement that requires people to be sent back across the border if they claim refugees status after entering Canada from the United States.
But Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen told reporters on Tuesday that the refugee ban imposed by Mr. Trump is “an evolving situation” and “there’s no change at this time” to the deal that came into effect in 2004.
“The issue for us is to look at the parameters of the agreement. The parameters are in place,” Mr. Hussen said.
The executive order issued by Mr. Trump says the United States will accept no refugees for 120 days. It also bars the entry of people from seven predominantly Muslim nations – Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia – for three months. And it suspends the arrival of refugees from war-torn Syria indefinitely.
The New Democrats on Tuesday called for Ottawa to enact a number of measures in response to the Trump order, including suspending the Safe Third Country Agreement, fast-tracking refugees into Canada in cases where their applications have been approved or were nearing approval by the United States, and accepting more refugees until the U.S. ban is revoked.
But Mr. Hussen ruled out increasing the current refugees quotas.
“We have an immigration plan that we intend to stick to,” he said. “If you look at the numbers of, for example, privately sponsored refugees that we have for 2017, it’s 16,000. That is a historic high, if you take out the exceptional year of 2016” when the government accepted large numbers of Syrians.
The Safe Third Country Agreement requires Canada to “review” whether the United States is in compliance with international conventions against torture, has a good human-rights record, and accepts its responsibility to protect refugees. Two hundred and forty law professors have signed a letter that was sent Tuesday to Mr. Hussen and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying those conditions have not been met and asking the government to suspend the agreement for up to three months while it can be reviewed.
“At this snapshot in time, the U.S. is clearly in breach of the conditions necessary for this agreement to be in place and, for that reason, we’re calling for an immediate suspension,” said Sharry Aiken, an associate professor of law at Queen’s University in Kingston, who helped organized the letter.
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) also says the federal government should suspend the agreement in light of the refugee ban.
“If the Canadian government wants to evaluate what the U.S. government is doing because things are in flux, it cannot do that evaluation … while it continues to participate in an agreement that sends refugee claimants back to a country that’s not accepting them,” said BCCLA executive director Josh Paterson. “That breeches our obligations under the [United Nations] Refugee Convention.”
After the U.S. refugee ban was announced, Mr. Trudeau used his Twitter account to say: “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith.”
But cabinet ministers have not publicly condemned Mr. Trump’s order. During a House of Commons emergency debate Tuesday night on the implications of the refugee ban, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair urged the government to denounce the directive.
“We’re not afraid to call a spade a spade. It’s time to say ‘no’ to Donald Trump, to say ‘yes’ to human rights and for the government of Canada to say ‘no’ to these racist policies,” Mr. Mulcair said.
Speaking to the Commons, Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel highlighted the need to have meaningful discussions on immigration policy, rather than use it to “sell political rhetoric.”
“There isn’t a single one of us that is not complicit in the rise of rhetoric around the immigration debate in the last 18 months. From colleagues in the European Union, the rise of nationalist parties, Brexit, what’s happening in the United States, we are not making sense on this debate,” Ms. Rempel said.
Representatives of the Canadian government said they have secured assurances from the U.S. administration that Canadians who are dual citizens of one of the seven affected countries, and people who are citizens of one of those countries and hold a permanent residence permit in Canada will still be permitted to cross the border. The United States does not appear to have given those guarantees in writing.
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