Canada: Repeal the Safe Third Country Agreement

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,

Honorable Ahmed Hussen                                                                        Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship,

We in Canada have been watching the growing injustices perpetrated against migrants and migrant families in the Unites States. Many of us have been wondering what we as Canadians can do to help. Given the Canadian government’s recent acknowledgement of historical injustices perpetrated against Indigenous peoples all across Turtle Island and their stated commitment to Indigenous peoples that came as a result of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission findings, the Canadian government must act in support of migrants today.

As long as the so-called Safe Third Country Agreement remains in effect, Canada and Canadians are complicit with the actions undertaken by the United States government and its representatives. For as Member of Parliament Jenny Kwan rightly states, “In view of migrant children being forcibly separated from families and put into cages, the US can no longer be considered a safe country for asylum seekers.” We are therefore calling on you to act immediately to revoke the Safe Third Country Agreement. Stating opposition to the policy is not enough. These flagrant violations of human rights and international law must be opposed and all those who are suffering as a result must be allowed to find asylum here in Canada.

We who know our history must remember that the Canadian government engaged in such actions against Canadians of Japanese descent. We must also remember that Canada turned away Jewish asylum seekers fleeing Nazi occupied Europe.

Two years ago, you, as our Prime Minister, stood in the House of Commons and issued an apology on behalf of the Canadian government and its people for what has come to be known as the Komagata Maru incident. As I am sure you recall, the more than 350 people on board the Komagata Maru were denied entry to Canada on the basis of the Continuous Passage Regulation prohibiting the “landing… of any immigrants who have come to Canada otherwise than by continuous journey from the country of which they are natives or citizens.” The parallel between this 1908 amendment to the Immigration Act and today’s Safe Third Country Agreement is striking. The injustice of the Continuous Passage Regulation and its colonial, racist and xenophobic foundation has been widely recognized and criticized. Why is this government seemingly incapable of casting such a historically informed gaze upon its present policy? The time to do so is now. Let us avoid the need for future apologies.

If we have indeed learned from our past, surely we do not need to repeat these injustices. The time to act is now. Let us protect human rights and uphold international law not just in words, but with action. Repeal the Safe Third Country Agreement and allow migrants and migrant families to find a safe haven in Canada.


Magnolia Pauker, PhD (ABD), Lecturer, Faculty of Community + Culture, Emily Carr University of Art + Design

Randy Lee Cutler, PhD, Associate Professor, Audain Faculty of Art, Emily Carr University of Art + Design