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New Canada-U.S. border directive restores some asylum rules suspended by shutdown

Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau says Canada-U.S. land border closure extended by 30 days amid COVID-19 pandemic
On Saturday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the agreement between Canada and the U.S. to close the border to all non-essential travel amid the COVID-19 pandemic will be extended by another 30 days.

The federal government is restoring exemptions for certain asylum claimants under the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) that a recent coronavirus border shutdown deal with the U.S. had effectively eliminated.

At the same time though, they are tightening up another element of the rules for one category of irregular border crossers.

READ MORE: Canada-U.S. land border closure extended by 30 days, Trudeau says

A federal directive posted Monday effectively restored elements of the STCA to how they had been before the unprecedented border shutdown went into effect last month.

That shutdown barred all non-essential travel across the border and authorized Canada to return irregular border crossers to the United States.

Those provisions remain in effect, but restrictions that effectively prevented certain normally-eligible people arriving from the U.S. from making asylum claims at official ports of entry during the pandemic have been lifted.

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This includes anyone who has a relative already living in Canada or anyone charged with/convicted of a crime punishable by death, either in the U.S. or elsewhere.

The directive does not, however, mean that irregular crossers who would have been barred from making their claim at official border points prior to the shutdown deal will suddenly be allowed to do so.

Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, said the changes announced Monday essentially restore the status quo for anyone previously allowed to make an asylum claim at an official port of entry.

In practice, however, these changes may not — for the time being — have a significant impact on the number of asylum claims being made because of ongoing travel restrictions and bans on foreign nationals enter the U.S.

READ MORE: Canada defends Safe Third Country Agreement as court challenge wraps up

Under the STCA, Canada and the U.S. recognize each other as safe places for asylum seekers to make their claims.

As a result, someone seeking asylum must make their claim in the first of the two countries that they arrive in — they cannot land first in the U.S. and then decide to try their luck in Canada.

Because of that agreement, individuals who try to claim asylum at official crossing points from the U.S. and who do not meet exemptions under the STCA are turned back, while those who cross the border irregularly are able to make a claim regardless of whether they meet an exemption.

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Critics have called this a “loophole” in the STCA agreement.

This new directive issued Monday restores all prior exemptions under the STCA.

It also tightens restrictions for irregular border crossers compared to the original border shutdown order issued at the end of March, which allowed parents of U.S. citizen children to make asylum claims at unofficial ports of entry. Under the new order, these parents will no longer be able to do that.

Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau says irregular migrants will be turned away at Canada-U.S. border
Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau says irregular migrants will be turned away at Canada-U.S. border

As the world grapples with the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, public health officials in Canada and the U.S. reached an unprecedented agreement last month to shut down the border for 30 days.

That deal was extended last week until the end of May.

As part of the agreement, irregular border crossers from the U.S. to Canada are being sent back.

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Public Safety Minister Bill Blair has said that’s happened in less than 10 cases.

—With files from Global’s Brian Hill.