In June there were 1,500 claims for refugee status filed in Canada, in a July 24, 2020 story. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

In June there were 1,500 claims for refugee status filed in Canada, in a July 24, 2020 story. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Asylum claims being filed in Canada continue to rise slightly despite pandemic

1,500 claims filed in June

OTTAWA — The number of asylum claims being filed in Canada continues to rise slightly despite ongoing global travel restrictions.

The latest figures from the Immigration Department show 1,500 claims for refugee status were filed in Canada in June, up from 1,400 in May.

For the first time since April — the first full month of major travel restrictions designed to slow the spread of COVID-19 — refugee claims were filed at airports. There were also multiple claims at marine ports.

Also slightly on the rise were the number of people stopped by the RCMP trying to cross irregularly into Canada: 32 in June, up from 21 in May.

Currently, Canada is turning back those who show up at unmarked border crossings, one of several measures being taken at the border in response to the pandemic.

How many people will continue to attempt to enter Canada irregularly may change in the coming months, in the wake of a Federal Court decision Wednesday that the Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the U.S. violates the charter.

The agreement is the reason just over 3,000 people this year have tried to cross irregularly into Canada in order to file for asylum. Under the deal, they would be turned away at formal border points.

They can still, however, lodge a claim once they are inside Canada.

But Federal Court Justice Ann Marie McDonald said Wednesday that elements of the law underpinning the agreement violate the constitutional guarantee of life, liberty and security.

Under the agreement, which took effect in 2004, Canada and the U.S. recognize each other as safe places to seek protection.

That means Canada can turn away those who arrive at land ports of entry along the Canada-U.S. border on the basis they must pursue asylum in the U.S., the country where they first arrived.

In the long-running court case, the applicants, who are citizens of El Salvador, Ethiopia and Syria, arrived at a Canadian land entry port from the U.S. and sought refugee protection but were refused.

They had argued in court that when returning ineligible refugee claimants to the U.S., Canada exposes them to risks in the form of detention and other rights violations.

In her decision, McDonald concluded the consequences ineligible claimants may face upon return to the U.S. are “inconsistent with the spirit and objective” of the refugee agreement and amount to a violation of the rights guaranteed by Section 7 of the charter.

The judgement, however, was suspended for six months to allow the government to find a solution.

Talks between Canada and the U.S. to update the Safe Third Country Agreement have been underway for a while, and rights advocates in both countries have urged Canada to use the ruling as opportunity to push them forward.

“Human Rights First notes that the Trump administration’s treatment of asylum seekers is now even worse than it was at the time evidence was submitted in this case,” the non-partisan American group said in a statement.

“In light of the court’s decision and this ongoing deterioration, Human Rights First urges the Canadian government to take this opportunity to withdraw from the ‘safe third country’ agreement.’”

The government can’t sit on its hands and do nothing, said Queen’s University professor and immigration law expert Sharry Aiken.

She said the agreement should be suspended immediately, as the while the court was only dealing with the legality of the deal, it continues to impact refugee claims.

“In my view the Canadian government has a responsibility to act immediately to prevent further violations of our constitution and the international human rights commitments to which Canada has agreed to be bound,” she said.

“It also means that it would be unconscionable for the government to appeal this ruling and seek a stay of the ruling.”

Current travel restrictions in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 appear to have placed downward pressure overall on asylum claims.

By the end of June 2019, 26,725 claims were filed, compared with 16,865 asylum claims filed so far this year.

The rise in June of this year was due to an increase in people already in Canada making claims at government offices, as opposed to those requesting asylum immediately upon arrival in Canada.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 24, 2020.

Asylum seekers

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A home on Montana First Nation was damaged by fire in the early hours on Dec. 2, 2020. (Chevi Rabbit/Submitted)
House fires on Montana Cree Nation under investigation

Two separate fires took place in the early hours of Dec. 2

File photo
City of Wetaskiwin launches Whistle-blower Program

Whistle-blower program acts as anonymous forum to hold local government accountable

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, confirmed eight additional virus-deaths Monday afternoon including one in central zone. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Central zone up to 1,249 active COVID-19 cases

Red Deer sits at 257 active COVID-19 cases

File Photo
Sylvan Lake Town Council squashes mask bylaw

The bylaw did not make it past first reading, after a 4-3 vote defeated the motion

A logo for Netflix on a remote control is seen in Portland, Ore.,Aug. 13, 2020. Experts in taxation and media say a plan announced Monday by the government will ultimately add to the cost of digital services and goods sold by foreign companies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jenny Kane
‘Netflix tax’ for digital media likely to raise prices for consumers, experts say

The government says Canadian companies already collect those taxes when they make digital sales

Gaming content was big on YouTube in 2020. (Black Press Media files)
What did Canadians watch on Youtube during isolation? Workouts, bird feeders

Whether it was getting fit or ‘speaking moistly,’ Canadians had time to spare this year

A teacher places the finishing touches on the welcome sign at Hunter’s Glen Junior Public School which is part of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Sept. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Hindsight 2020: How do you preserve a year many Canadians would rather forget?

Figuring out how to preserve the story of the pandemic poses a series of challenges

Team Manitoba celebrate after defeating Team Ontario to win the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Moose Jaw, Sask., Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020. Curling Canada wants Calgary’s Canada Olympic Park to be a curling hub for the season’s top events. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Calgary facility set to become curling hub during pandemic

Curling Canada has provisional approval for Calgary’s hub-city concept from Alberta Health

Ash and Lisa Van carry a freshly cut Christmas tree while wearing personal protective masks at a Christmas Tree Farm in Egbert, Ontario, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Cole Burston
‘Everyone wants a tree and they want it now’: Christmas tree sales on pace for record

Anticipated demand for Christmas trees has sparked a rush by some to purchase more trees wholesale

A scene from last year’s Light the Night fundraiser at the Stettler Town and Country Museum. This year’s rendition is on a drive-through basis only, but it still promises to be a not-to-be-missed seasonal highlight. (Independent file photo)
Stettler Town and Country Museum hosts ‘Light the Night’

This year’s rendition is drive-through only, but will still prove to be a dazzling display

Most Read