Hon. Mobina S.B. Jaffer:
My question is to the government leader of the Senate regarding safe third country agreements.
Leader, we have a safe third country agreement with the U.S. I understand this is the only country we have an agreement with. You know as well as anybody in the country that this agreement makes sure that people who arrive in the U.S. and claim refugee status there are not given refugee status here. If they first arrive in the U.S., we return them to the U.S.
With what is happening in the U.S. — I’m not looking for great statements, and I am also aware of what is happening and how we have to behave — may I ask that you canvas our immigration minister as to our future plans to protect refugees? With the pictures we see, we have a responsibility for people who come to our borders.
Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): I thank the honourable senator for her question and, frankly, for her lifelong interest in these issues. We have had occasion in other fora and other roles to debate and discuss this.
The senator is absolutely right: The 2004 agreement for safe third country with the United States was, at the time, a very important step forward, one that was endorsed by the UNHCR as a prototype for advancing and stabilizing irregular movements.
The honourable senator will also know the reason that it’s only the United States is that it’s the contiguous border with Canada, but it is a model that has worked and served Canadians well. We do have obligations under the convention to adjudicate asylum claims of those who arrive at our borders. That continues to be the case.
With respect to the recent issues along the border and the references the honourable senator has made to events south of the border, let me say that, one, I will absolutely bring it to the attention of the minister. But I’d also like to report that the minister himself has publicly stated, and would want this house to know, that he is engaging with his American counterparts and officials in the department with their counterparts to ensure that the treatment of potential claimants is appropriate and consistent with the obligations both sides have under the safe third country agreement.
Senator Jaffer: Leader, thank you for your answer. I appreciate it. I know you have done a lot of work on these matters.
The agreement states:
Specifically, the legislation requires that the review of a designated country be based on four factors:
1. whether it is party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1984 Convention Against Torture;
2. its policies and practices with respect to claims under the 1951 Refugee Convention, and its obligations under the 1984 Convention Against Torture;
3. its human rights record; and
4. whether it is a party to an agreement with the Government of Canada for the purpose of sharing responsibility with respect to claims for refugee protection.
As you know, leader, yesterday Amnesty International said the following:
The severe mental suffering that officials have intentionally inflicted on these families for coercive purposes, means that these acts meet the definitions of torture both under U.S. and international law.
So, leader, this was one of our requirements. If Amnesty International, whom we all very much find to be a credible organization, has called this torture, I ask you to take this to the minister and say, “We need to quietly look at this and see what our next steps are.”
Senator Harder: Let me assure the honourable senator that I will do so. I also want to repeat that the minister and his senior officials are actively monitoring the circumstances of the safe third country agreement and the compliance requirements of the agreement to ensure they continue to be relevant.