On April 4th – Refugee Rights Day – dozens of protestors gathered in front of Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino’s constituency office, calling on the Canadian government to end the Canada-United States, Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA).
The protest came after eight people died by drowning as they tried crossing the St. Lawrence River into the United States last week. The victims included a young Romanian family from Toronto – a mother, father and two children, fleeing as the parents were reportedly set to be deported from Canada.
Protestors covered Mendicino’s office windows and doors with photographs of migrants who have died. They also delivered a petition with thousands of signatures calling to end the STCA.
Mendicino is responsible for border patrol and policing in Canada.
In late March, U.S. President Joe Biden’s visit to Canada secured a deal with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, amending the Safe Third Country Agreement.
STCA, which came into effect in 2004 between Canada and the U.S., claimed to better manage the flow of refugees at the shared border. According to World Refugee and Migration Council, the STCA requires refugee claimants to seek protection in the first country they arrive in, whether it be Canada or the U.S.
“On a practical level, this means that a person seeking asylum from a country other than Canada or the U.S. cannot seek protection in Canada if they have already landed in the U.S. and vice-versa,” the World Refugee and Migration Council stated.
The petition calls to end policies and practices that migrants face, pressuring them to risk their lives in pursuit of safety. The organizers of the protest are calling on Trudeau to “end the STCA and to ensure equal rights through permanent resident status for all migrants.”
“We are here to deliver thousands of petitions calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to end the Safe Third Country Agreement and demand full and equal rights for all migrants,” Syed Hussan said.
The petition was hand delivered to Mendicino’s office as Hussan, executive director of Migrant Workers Alliance, knocked and handed off the petition in a box plastered with faces of migrants who died.
“We are calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to be held accountable by himself and by the country for the deaths that are taking place as a result of his decision,” Hussan said.
Earlier this year, hundreds of international students were told by he Canada Border Security Agency (CBSA) that their admission letters to post-secondary institutions to Canada were fraudulent. The students allege they didn’t know the letters were faked and now, as many as 700 international students, are reportedly set to be deported.
“Our government tells us when they do immigration processing, they do very strict verification. So if CBSA looked at those documents and allowed those students in, then to have them come in here, find out the documents were false and put it on the students, as it being their fault, is ridiculous,” Shalini Konanur said.
Konanur is the executive director and a senior lawyer at the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario (SALCO).
She said international students are coming to Canada to study with the intention of becoming permanent residences and she is advocating for international students to be brought to Canada with permanent residence status.
“For the people who are already here, who don’t have status, make it easier, regularize their status, give them that permanent residence, we can do that and at periods of times in the past, we have done that for other communities,” Konanur said.
“End all of these enforcement practices like the Safe Third Country Agreement so that when people have to make the hard decision of crossing boarders, they can do it safely. We’re in a crisis around the world with migration and displacement and Canada really needs to step up and be part of the solution.”