April 21, 2020
Sent to: Hon. Chrystia Freeland, Chair, Cabinet Committee on the Federal Response to the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)
OPEN LETTER: U.S. BORDER RESTRICTIONS ON ASYLUM SEEKERS
Deputy Prime Minister Freeland,I am writing to further follow up on my letter to you regarding the government’s decision to temporarily restrict asylum seekers from crossing irregularly from the United States border to Canada by turning them into the custody of the United States. I remain deeply concerned with the implications of this decision and the state of vulnerable asylum seekers, who face potential harm if subjected to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention. With no reply to date, I would like to follow-up on the current situation.
As it stands, the government announced this temporary measure would be extended for an additional 30 days, with Prime Minister Trudeau stating these restrictions will not be lifted anytime soon. This is particularly concerning as there is a lack of clarity on assurances from the U.S. as to how asylum seekers who are turned away under this policy would be treated. A recent article published on April 10, 2020, from BBC News acknowledged a disturbing leaked document on the U.S. border controls that are currently taking place.
The full leaked document can be found here: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6824221-COVID-19-CAPIO.html. According to the document, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol have very broad powers. There is no clarity on what will happen to individuals who attempt to enter Canada to seek refugee protection and are turned back to the United States.
Given the government’s policy directive to turn back all irregular asylum seekers from the U.S. at the border, it is important that Canadians are given assurances that we have done our own diligence with respect to our international obligations.
Could you please advise:
1. If Canada sought any assurances from the U.S. that they will adhere to international legal and humanitarian standards by respecting the core principle of the 1951 United Nations Convention and 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees that a refugee must not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to life or freedom. Additionally, did Canada seek to ensure that the asylum seekers' right to access legal assistance?
If so, what was the response from the U.S.? Did they commit to honouring these international standards? If not, why then did Canada agree to the border restrictions? Is Canada not concerned with our own obligation to uphold the core principle of non-refoulement? In the spirit of openness and transparency, will you make public the terms of the agreement for this policy directive between Canada and the U.S.?
2. What instructions have been given to Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) about the implemention of the border closure to asylum seekers? How have they been instructed to treat asylum seekers being turned back, and what information if any is being provided to the asylum seekers? Is there any effort made to ensure the asylum seekers are aware of the rights, including their right to access legal representation?
3. What instructions if any are given to the U.S. authorities when CBSA turns back the asylum seekers at the border? Will you make this information available publicly?
These are unprecedented times. As the government works to limit the spread of COVID-19 for the health and safety of Canadians, we must not abandon those who are most in need. I believe the government's initial plan to undertake quarantine measures of the asylum seekers were safe and sensible.
I urge the government to uphold its commitments to protecting the rights of refugees, and to take the necessary steps to ensure they are not being further subjected to preventable harms.
Thank you for your attention to this matter and as time is of the essence for the individuals impacted, I look forward to your prompt reply.
Jenny Kwan, MP, Vancouver East
NDP Critic for Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship
NDP Critic for Housing
NDP Deputy Critic for Health
The Hon. Jean-Yves Duclos (Vice-Chair)
The Hon. Navdeep Singh Bains
The Hon. William Sterling Blair
The Hon. Patricia Hajdu
The Hon. Mélanie Joly
The Hon. William Francis Morneau
The Hon. Carla Qualtrough
The Hon. Kirsty Duncan
The Hon. Marco E. L. Mendicino
The Hon. François-Philippe Champagne