News / Toronto

Law students challenge U.S.-Canada agreement on refugees

Hundreds of students have signed a letter sent to the House of Commons to challenge the Safe Third Country Agreement.

Simon Gooding-Townsend, a fourth-year law student at the University of Toronto, is among local students spearheading the effort to challenge the Safe Third Country Agreement.

Eduardo Lima / Metro Order this photo

Simon Gooding-Townsend, a fourth-year law student at the University of Toronto, is among local students spearheading the effort to challenge the Safe Third Country Agreement.

Count law students at Canadian universities among the growing list of groups pressuring the federal government to reconsider its pact with the United States on the treatment of refugee claimants.

Hundreds of students have signed a two-page letter that was sent to the House of Commons Wednesday. The letter calls for the immediate suspension of the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, which has drawn sharp criticism from refugee advocates in light of Donald Trump’s controversial immigration policies.

“There is no place for Islamophobia in Canadian society nor in its policies,” reads the letter in reference to the president’s temporary travel ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries. These actions “represent and mobilize bigotry, xenophobia and fear-mongering that Canada simply cannot support.”

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The effort follows a recent nationwide research-a-thon that prepared the legal groundwork for a potential court challenge to the agreement.

Simon Gooding-Townsend, a fourth-year law student at the University of Toronto, said the issue is personal to a lot of students whose parents came to Canada as refugees, and they know they wouldn’t be here under this agreement.

“Canada has a reputation of a safe and welcoming country, and we should live up to that expectation,” he said. There’s also a growing concern of asylum seekers putting their lives at risk as they try to cross the borders illegally, he added.

Hundreds of refugee claimants have attempted to enter Canadian borders in Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba since Donald Trump was elected president. Some were found suffering from frostbite.

It is important to challenge existing laws that don’t respect Canadian values of human rights and diversity, said Kim Veller, a student at York’s Osgoode Law School.

“An immigration system that discriminates against people of colour and Muslims is morally wrong and in direct contradiction with our constitution,” she said.

Others in support of scrapping U.S.-Canada agreement for refugee claimants:

  • Law professors
  • The Canadian Council of Churches
  • The Canadian Refugee Council
  • Amnesty International Canada
  • Canadian Civil Liberties Association