A court challenge that will attempt to prove the U.S. is no longer a safe haven for refugees began Monday in Toronto, Canada.
The Third Country Agreement between the two countries stops people from crossing into Canada from the U.S., or from the U.S. into Canada and was signed 17 years ago.
But Several advocacy groups will argue in court that the Trump administration has tightened asylum rules that no longer make the U.S. a safe home for refugees and that Canada should not turn away those who try to cross into Canada from the U.S. at official crossing points.
“Refugee claimants are being detained indefinitely in conditions that are nothing short of cruel and unusual, simply for seeking protection,” one court document states.
The challenge to the Third Country Agreement was launched after a Salvadoran woman attempted to leave the U.S. because of tightened rules and wanted to enter Canada at one of the official crossing points. She said she was seeking asylum because she had been targeted by gangs in her home country.
But she was told by Canadian border officials that she could not cross into Canada because of the agreement.
Her request came as U.S. President Donald Trump attempted to ban immigrants from Muslim countries and lifted the rules on how long Central American nations could remain in the country.
That did not sit well with Canadians, said Janet Dench of the Canadian Council for Refugees, one of the groups behind the federal court challenge.
“Many Canadians…instinctively felt it didn’t make sense for Canada to be hitching its wagon to the United States in this way and be sending people back to the U.S. when they could see there was such a lack of attention to the basic rights,” she said.
The rules tightened further when the U.S. decided in 2018 to not allow refugees in on the basis of domestic violence.
That contravenes the Canadian Charter of Rights and amounts to discrimination on the basis of gender, therefore refugees should not be turned back at the border into the U.S., advocacy groups will argue in court.
The Canadian government argues that the development relates to the U.S refugee system and the case of the Salvadoran woman has nothing to do with Canada.
“Many of the concerns raised by the applicants have been limited by American courts or are still undergoing legal challenges, have no application to [Safe Third Country Agreement] returnees, and/or do not preclude access to protection,” Canadian Immigration and Public Safety ministries’ lawyers argued in submissions to the court.
About 45,000 people have been accepted into Canada by way crossing at the U.S. in the past two years.
The court hearing is expected to continue until Friday.