The Trudeau government says there will be upheaval at the Canada-U.S. border early next year if a refugee pact between the two countries is allowed to expire.
Federal lawyers are asking the Federal Court of Appeal to stay a July ruling that struck down the Safe Third Country Agreement but left it in effect until mid-January.
Under the refugee agreement, which took effect in 2004, Canada and the United States recognize each other as safe places to seek protection.
It means Canada can turn back potential refugees who arrive at land ports of entry along the border on the basis that they must pursue their claims in the U.S., the country where they first arrived.
Pause ruling during appeal: federal lawyers
Ottawa is appealing the Federal Court ruling that nixed the agreement, and government lawyers argued in a hearing on Friday that the Court of Appeal should pause the decision until the full challenge is resolved, effectively leaving the refugee pact in place beyond January.
After hearing from both sides, Justice David Stratas said he hopes to rule on the stay request by early next week.
Refugee claimants and their advocates say the federal application for a stay must be rejected, given that a judge found the bilateral agreement violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
During Friday’s hearing, Stratas raised the notion that “the government of Canada is thumbing its nose at the Federal Court” by not affording much respect to the six-month grace period, from July to January, that Ottawa was given to adapt to the ruling.
Federal lawyer Martin Anderson said the usual period in such cases is a year. “Six months is awfully short.”
In a written submission, government lawyers say the absence of the agreement would serve as “a pull factor” attracting people to make a claim for protection in Canada.
“This will impact all types of port of entry operations and result in significant delays for persons making refugee claims at the land port of entry,” the government submission states.
Lifting the agreement could also “create negative ripple effects and backlogs” in the overall immigration and refugee system, the government argues.
“This could undermine the ability of Canada’s refugee protection system to determine claims and offer protection in a timely manner to those who have not had the benefit of accessing an asylum process in another safe country.”
Prediction of upheaval based on speculation: refugee advocates
Canadian refugee advocates have vigorously fought the asylum agreement, arguing the U.S. is not always a safe country for people fleeing persecution.
Several refugee claimants took the case to court, along with the Canadian Council for Refugees, the Canadian Council of Churches and Amnesty International, who participated in the proceedings as public interest parties.
In each 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.