Nixing Safe Third Country agreement could reduce refugee smugglers, advocate says

Canada's withdrawal from the Safe Third Country agreement would be a "clear and easy solution" to the number of people seeking asylum in the country through illegal border crossings, says one advocate.

Janet Dench is the executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees. Dench spoke with CBC Radio's Afternoon Edition after a Regina woman faced a smuggling charge. The woman was apprehended with nine foreign nationals from West Africa at the North Portal border crossing. 

Dench said the agreement creates opportunity for smugglers to profit — circumstances she alleges the federal government knew were possible before the agreement was even signed into law. 

"Unfortunately, the reality around the world is that many times, refugees do have to depend upon smugglers to help them get across the barriers that are put up," Dench said.

The barrier in Canada's case is the agreement, which mandates refugees coming from the U.S. seeking asylum in Canada would be turned away at formal border crossings and potentially deported. If refugees are in the U.S., that's where they are to make a claim first. 

If the border is crossed illegally, then the refugees can make their claim in Canada instead. 

"Of course, refugees are routinely — right around the world — taken advantage of by people who are trying to make a quick buck," Dench said, referring to the agreement as unnecessary.

If the agreement was nixed, she said people could travel to formal crossings and have their claim heard and processed under Canadian law. 

By doing that, smuggling business could be reduced and refugees wouldn't have to freeze crossing illegally — such as the case in Emerson, Man.

"Everybody would benefit," she said. 

The biggest risk is refugees who do not know they can cross the border without having to hire smugglers, Dench said. 

"There's always going to be people who will take advantage of desperate people and take money from them."