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Pro-trans rights demonstrators gather to counter an anti gender diversity in schools protest in Toronto on Sept. 20.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

The federal government has rebuffed a call from an all-party committee of MPs to welcome trans asylum seekers at Canada’s border with the U.S., as well as other refugees with “gender-based” claims.

As rival demonstrations about gender identities took place in Canadian cities this week, Ottawa rejected a recommendation by the Commons immigration committee to make an exception to a rule that asylum seekers who arrive at Canada’s border from the U.S. must be turned back.

U.S. legislatures have been rolling back the rights of women and LGBTQ people.

The American Civil Liberties Union has tracked hundreds of bills affecting transgender and gay and lesbian people in the U.S., including legislation on bathroom use, health care, drag performances and education.

Utah was the first U.S. state in 2023 to pass a law banning hormone therapy and surgery for transgender people under the age of 18.

Kate Korycki, assistant professor in the department of gender, sexuality and women’s studies, at Western University, said it was “fiction” that the U.S. is a safe country for transgender people.

She said last year’s decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, the basis for establishing a constitutional right to abortion, has also eroded the rights of women in many states.

“The U.S. is a battlefield over gender,” she said, saying turning back asylum claimants fleeing gender-based persecution was “unconscionable.”

In a report on asylum seekers at Canada’s border, the Commons citizenship and immigration committee called on the federal government to make an exception to the Safe Third Country Agreement.

The agreement, signed in 2002 and implemented in 2004, requires asylum seekers to make their claim in the first country they arrive in, allowing customs agents to turn them away at the Canada-U.S. border. It means claimants who have arrived in the U.S. are required to request refugee protection there rather than in Canada.

In its response this week to the report, Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) said it disagreed with the MPs’ recommendation that the government “expand exceptions provided in the Safe Third Country Agreement to include gender-based claims as a public interest exception.”

The government agreed with most of the recommendations by the parliamentary committee, which includes Liberal, Conservative, NDP and Bloc Québécois MPs.

Jenny Kwan, the NDP’s immigration critic who sits on the committee, said “even the government’s lawyers argued that urgent exemption for migrant women, girls and 2SLGBTQIA+ people in the Safe Third Country Agreement is needed.”

Federal ministers have been outspoken champions of LGBTQ and women’s rights. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last year said that the U.S. Supreme Court vote to end constitutional protections for abortion was “horrific.” He said at the time that he couldn’t “imagine the fear and anger” American women set to lose their legal right to an abortion were feeling.

Isabelle Dubois, IRCC spokesperson, said “everyone should have the right to be safe, no matter their gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation.”

She added that Canada will continue to monitor U.S. asylum policies regarding gender-based claims.

In its response this week to the immigration committee report, the IRCC said “Canada is satisfied that the U.S. system offers protection for GB claims in line with international refugee law norms, and that it has appropriate guidance, jurisprudence and recourse mechanisms in place to consider GB claims fairly.”

During President Joe Biden’s visit to Canada earlier this year, he and the Prime Minister announced that they had renegotiated the Safe Third Country Agreement. The changes meant that the two countries could start turning away asylum seekers, whether they entered at both official or unofficial border points, such as at Quebec’s Roxham Road.

Green MP Mike Morrice has presented a petition, signed by more than 160,000 people, in the Commons calling on the federal government to extend the right of transgender and non-binary people to claim asylum in Canada.

The petition said that transgender and non-binary people’s rights are being restricted worldwide including in the U.S. More than a dozen states have enacted or are considering legislation eliminating or criminalizing gender-affirming care.

“Given the climate in the U.S. right now, it’s crucial we provide safety for trans folks,” he said.

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