Many of you have been following the challenge to the Safe Third Country Act (STCA) and its impact on refugees seeking safety and freedom from persecution in their country of origin.
The case has now made it up to Canada’s highest court, and West Coast LEAF will be there to highlight how the STCA endangers refugees, and especially women and gender diverse people.
At the heart of the challenge to the STCA is the question of whether the United States is a safe country for refugee claimants. Canada is a party to the United Nations Refugee Convention, which means it cannot return refugees to countries where they would be in danger. However, the STCA allows Canada to reject refugees who try and enter the country from the US, because it declares that both Canada and the US are equally safe for refugees.
Since the STCA’s inception in 2004, advocates have been saying that the US is not a safe country for refugees, and they’ve brought this argument to Federal Court.
The Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnesty International, the Canadian Council of Churches, and and eight refugee claimants from Syria, Ethiopia, and El Salvador are arguing that the STCA violates section 7 of the Charter, which protects a person’s life and liberty rights. They argue that refugees in the US are at risk of being unjustly detained and being forced to return to the country where they fled persecution.
They’re also arguing that the STCA violates section 15 of the Charter, as women suffer disproportionately under the US’s harmful refugee system. Refugees fleeing gender-based violence face many barriers in seeking asylum in the US, which routinely fails to protect women refugee claimants, sometimes returning them to places of danger.
At trial, despite significant evidence that the STCA violates equality rights, the judge focused only on the s.7 claim and declined to rule on the s.15 claim. At appeal, the court agreed that the judge had the discretion not to decide the s.15 claim. This means the courts have not considered the disproportionate harms of the US refugee system on women and gender diverse people.
That’s where we come in.
Along with our partners LEAF and the David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights, West Coast LEAF will intervene at the SCC later this year. We will argue that courts should decide s. 15 equality claims when they are properly raised. Not doing so ignores gendered harms, undermines equality rights, and creates a serious access to justice issue for women and gender diverse people.
We submitted our joint factum last week and will let you know as soon as the hearing date is confirmed. Stay tuned for developments on this important case!