The Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) is a bilateral treaty between Canada and the United States that aims to regulate the flow of asylum seekers between the two nations. It stipulates that any person who seeks asylum in one of the countries must first do so in the country of arrival.
In other words, if a person enters Canada from the United States and claims asylum, Canadian authorities can decline their request and return them to the US, where they would be expected to seek asylum there instead. Similarly, if a person arrives in the US from Canada and claims asylum, US officials can send them back to Canada.
The STCA was signed in 2002 and took effect in 2004. It was designed to prevent “asylum shopping,” where people would travel to Canada or the US in order to claim asylum in whichever country they thought would be more favorable to their case.
Supporters of the STCA argue that it promotes orderly and fair asylum processing and prevents abuse of the system. They also point out that both Canada and the US have strong asylum systems and are safe countries for refugees.
Critics, however, argue that the STCA is unfair and violates the rights of asylum seekers. They claim that the US is not a safe country for refugees, especially under the current administration, and that the STCA puts vulnerable people at risk of being returned to dangerous situations.
Indeed, the STCA has been challenged in court in both Canada and the US. In 2020, the Federal Court of Canada ruled that the STCA violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms because it discriminates against refugees based on their mode of arrival. The ruling was suspended for six months to allow the government time to respond, and the case is expected to be appealed.
Meanwhile, in the US, the STCA has been criticized for putting pressure on Mexico to act as a “safe third country” for asylum seekers traveling through Central America. This has resulted in thousands of people being stuck in dangerous and overcrowded conditions in Mexico while they await processing of their asylum claims.
Overall, the STCA remains a controversial and divisive issue in both Canada and the US. Asylum seekers and their advocates will continue to push for fair and humane treatment, while supporters of the agreement will argue that it is necessary for the orderly management of the asylum system.