The Safe Third Party Agreement forces refugees to claim asylum in the first country they land in. Photo: Jaclyn McRae-Sadik.
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Current system is unfair and possibly dangerous for incoming refugees

How things change. It seems like only yesterday that Justin Trudeau and Barack Obama were in the full sunny swing of bromance. But today, in the cold, dark first few months of 2017, the mood is palpably different in the face of the Trumpian turbulence coming from the south.

Indeed, things have changed. In his first couple weeks, Trump has started tearing down Obamacare, laid out plans to build a wall on the Mexican border, left the Trans-Pacific Partnership, restricted federal funding of abortion, and gave the go ahead to several pipelines. He has also begun his infamous travel ban, blocking citizens of seven Muslim majority countries from entering the United States.

The question up north is how to react to Trump, especially when it comes to policy. The Muslim ban in particular has led to calls to scrap the Safe Third Country Agreement, and even an emergency debate on the topic in Parliament on Jan. 31. This agreement between the U.S. and Canada forces refugees to claim asylum in the first country they arrive in.

The agreement assumes that the U.S. has, and will continue to have, good asylum policies. The new Trump administration is making a very good case against that assumption.

But even if Trump hadn’t been elected, the political stability of any given country is not guaranteed. The world often changes quickly and unexpectedly, and the political situation can flip completely overnight.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the 9/11 attacks are just two of the most prominent examples of the phenomenon over the last 30 years. Brexit is the most prominent example from 2016, where millions of people living in the U.K. could now be kicked out of their homes.

As well, an agreement like this shouldn’t be signed in the first place. Why should a refugee be confined to the first country they land in that doesn’t try to kill them? People should have the freedom to seek out a better life, and geography is a pretty arbitrary limitation on that freedom.

Not only that, but using geography to limit asylum seekers can make things worse. One only needs to look to Europe’s handling of the Syrian Refugee Crisis for a vivid illustration. The Dublin Agreement states that refugees coming into the European Union can only apply for asylum in the first member-state they arrive in.

The regulation is supposed to make the European asylum system more controlled. But in practice, what happened is that a few member-states on the European border, notably Italy and Greece, end up with almost all the refugees. This is neither fair to refugees, nor to European member-states.

Most of all, a refugee is a refugee and they should be able to choose their destination for themselves.

Where they come from shouldn’t matter, and how they got to Canada shouldn’t matter. When we evaluate asylum requests, we should be making sure that the applicants meet the requirements and that they are facing a real risk of persecution.

Plus, there’s no benefit to Canada to having this agreement to limit immigration. It’s not like Canada is overflowing with people. We’re a vast and empty country, and having a few more people wouldn’t hurt.  

It’s time for Canada to scrap the Safe Third Country Agreement. Mr. Trudeau, stop these walls before they’re built.