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Can I make a refugee claim in Canada if I’m coming from the U.S.?
On July 22, 2020, the Federal Court decided that the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) is not legal. The federal government appealed that decision. The STCA rules will continue as they are now at least until February 2021, and likely longer.
Before you make a refugee claim in Canada, it's a good idea to understand the eligibility rules to figure out if you can make a claim. For example, no matter where you're coming from, you must meet the definition of Convention Refugee or person in need of protection.
The Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) says that you might not be able to make a refugee claim in Canada if you're coming from the United States (US). The STCA says that a person coming from the US should usually make their refugee claim in the US. But the STCA doesn't apply everywhere in Canada or to all refugee claimants.
When you make your claim at a Port of Entry (POE), such as an airport, land border crossing, or marine port, a Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officer interviews you to decide if you're eligible to make a refugee claim. If you make your claim at a US border POE and the STCA applies to you, you will not be able to make a claim and you will be returned to the US.
You're also not eligible to make a refugee claim if you already made one in a country with an information sharing agreement with Canada, and that country provides confirmation of your previous claim. The list of countries includes the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. If this applies to you, get legal advice right away. You will be able to apply for a Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA). A PRRA is a written application where you explain why you're afraid to return to your country and you provide documents to support your fear.
Risk of detention
You might be detained at your eligibility interview. Some reasons a CBSA officer might detain you include:
- they need to confirm your identity
- they think you're a security threat in Canada
- they need time to get travel documents to remove you from Canada and they think you won't show up for your removal
You have the right to know the reason you're being detained. You also have the right to a hearing within 48 hours of being detained and the right to hire a legal representative.
Get legal help
You should try to get legal advice before making your refugee claim. A lawyer can help you figure out if the STCA applies to your situation. It's also important to get legal advice if any of your identity or travel documents are false or if you made a refugee claim in another country.
Staff at the Peace Bridge Newcomer Centre (Buffalo), Vive Refugee Shelter (Buffalo), Freedom House (Detroit), and Plattsburgh Cares (Plattsburgh) can guide you through the process of making a refugee claim in Canada. They might also be able to help you schedule your eligibility interview with a CBSA officer.