The Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) is deeply dismayed that the Canadian government has downgraded its commitment to offer protection to 15,000 migrants from the Americas, which it made following the expansion of the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) with the United States in March 2023. Effectively closing our border to people seeking protection was egregious in its own right and the commitment at that time to offer safe pathways to an additional 15,000 people on a humanitarian basis instead was itself meager. That commitment has now been reduced to 11,000, with the remaining 4,000 spots to be filled by temporary foreign workers under a program that offers neither permanence nor protection.
Prime Minister Trudeau announced the commitment to resettle 15,000 people from the Western Hemisphere in Canada as a means to address forced displacement in the region, and as part of the decision to further close the land border to refugee claimants by expanding the STCA with the United States to include unofficial ports of entry. The CCR maintains that the STCA is an ineffective and dangerous agreement that conflicts with Canada’s international human rights and Charter obligations to provide protection to those who arrive at our borders fleeing persecution and violence.
The government’s commitment to resettle 15,000 people from the Americas in “compensation” for the border closure was already low given the crisis of forced displacement in the region and compared to the number of people who are now barred from seeking refugee protection in Canada. At the time, the Prime Minister was explicit in his statement, and in response to journalists, that the initiative to welcome 15,000 migrants would be focused on humanitarian protection and designed to create regular pathways for those seeking asylum. Moreover, it was described as being additional to existing commitments, building on the 2022 Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection, under which Canada had promised to increase refugee resettlement from the Americas by up to 4,000 individuals by 2028. This means that Canada has made commitments to resettle a total of 19,000 people in the Americas facing forced displacement on a humanitarian basis.
Reducing this target and allocating 4,000 of these spots for temporary foreign workers is a shameful downgrading of the government’s commitment to refugee protection in the Western Hemisphere. Canada's Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program is not a humanitarian program, but rather one designed to fulfill Canadian economic needs. It does not provide pathways to permanent residence, and it is marred by serious rights violations. UN Special Rapporteur Tomoya Obokata has reported that Canada’s TFW programs, “are a breeding ground for contemporary forms of slavery.” The UN expert was, “deeply disturbed by the accounts of exploitation and abuse shared with [him] by migrant workers” particularly stemming from closed work permits that tie workers to the mercy of a single employer, separate them from their family, and deny them many of the rights afforded to other workers in Canada. This is a far cry from the protection that was promised by the Prime Minister when the STCA was expanded and Roxham Road was closed.
CCR urges the government to rethink its approach and reaffirm its commitment to welcoming an additional 15,000 migrants from the Western hemisphere to Canada. The government should clarify that while the STCA is in place:
- The commitment to resettle 15,000 migrants from the hemisphere become an annual commitment, and additional to other current targets such as under the Los Angeles Declaration.
- All resettled migrants under this commitment will receive permanent status.
- Special consideration will be given to vulnerable populations that may not be able to find protection in the United States including 2SLGBTQI+ populations and those fleeing gender-based violence.
- Resettlement is open to anyone in need of protection who is located and seeking protection in the hemisphere, and not restricted to specific nationalities or requiring family connections.
17 October 2023