The Safe Third Country Agreement, adopted in 2004, was designed to help Canada turn down refugees by effectively aligning with the US’s immigration policies. It requires people to claim asylum in the first country where they land so long as that country is deemed “safe,” which means that refugees who land in the US and then cross over into Canada can be turned back. This allows Canada to defer to the US’s policies while also posturing as an “immigrant friendly” nation, and legitimizing the US as the same. It also allows Canada to circumvent its obligations under international refugee law.
While activists have been calling on the government to scrap the agreement for years, Trump’s openly racist immigration policies are pouring fuel on the fire. Trump’s administration has separated over 2,000 children from their parents and instituted a zero-tolerance policy that prosecutes all undocumented crossings of the US-Mexico border. Rather than abolish the agreement on the basis that the US is clearly not safe for refugees, Trudeau’s government wants to expand the policy to include untracked border crossings. Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen has also approached the US government to discuss using biometrics (like fingerscans, an iris scan, or a digital photograph) to monitor refugees, in an effort to “modernize” the agreement. Currently, refugees can still apply for asylum within Canada by crossing the border undocumented, which is happening predominantly in Manitoba and Quebec but also in other provinces. Trudeau finally admitted that “what’s going on in the United States is wrong,” but in line with Canadian duplicity, continues to back an agreement that formalizes Canada’s cooperation with the US’s violent policies.
Solidarity Across Borders, a migrant justice network based in Montreal, calls for open borders, an end to the case-by-case claimant system that divides people into “good” and “bad” refugees, and the rejection of racist, divisive discourse that criminalizes migrants and scapegoats them for the conditions imposed by colonial and imperialist powers, including Canada. In the past few years, 40% of inland refugees, who make claims within Canada, were denied.
The Manitoba NDP has joined calls to end the STCA by arguing that the STCA is incompatible with Canada’s so-called commitment to “inclusivity”, or multiculturalism, which repackages white supremacy as palatable to liberals. Painting the Safe Third Country Agreement as an exception to multiculturalism covers up the settler-colonial Canadian state creation of forced migration through its imperialist economic policies and military practices abroad. The business-as-usual NDP reforms are countered by the politics of Solidarity Across Borders, which, rather than emptily gesture at inclusivity, radically reframe how people in Canada relate to questions of citizenship.
Rather than think of ourselves as “Canadians” and refugees as the enemies, we should redraw lines of belonging that illuminate the shared struggles and big-picture interests of working class and Indigenous peoples, irrespective of what side of a border we’re on. When capitalist, colonial, and imperialist policies destroy local economies, poor working class and colonized people are the first to be affected, whether on Turtle Island or in Haiti. Whatever meager benefits working class and Indigenous people derive from siding with the Canadian state against immigrants and refugees are not worth denying that our liberation is bound up with working class and Indigenous people worldwide.