Canada-U. S. refugee pact to remain in place until court challenge is resolved

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OTTAWA — A judge says a refugee pact between Canada and the United States will remain in place until a full legal hearing of the measure is resolved.

In a new ruling, Federal Court of Appeal Justice David Stratas has sided with the Trudeau government in extending the life of the Safe Third Country Agreement.

Under the 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 on the basis they must pursue their claims in the U.S., the country where they first arrived.

A July ruling of the Federal Court struck down the agreement on constitutional grounds but left it in place until mid-January.

The federal government appealed the ruling and asked the Court of Appeal to extend the refugee agreement, arguing immigration delays and backlogs would otherwise happen.

Refugee claimants and their advocates said the idea the Canadian immigration system would be overwhelmed was based on speculation.

They said the contention ignored the reality that all travel, and therefore the number of refugee claims, had dropped dramatically because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stratas said the refugee advocates could apply to vary his order if there is a significant new development to consider.

The Court of Appeal is expected to hear full arguments in the first months of the new year on the constitutionality of the Safe Third Country Agreement.