PHOTO: The David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights
In Canada, an individual can apply for refugee status at an official Port of Entry or at an Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada office. To qualify for refugee status the claimant must either: (1) have a well-founded fear of persecution or (2) are at risk of torture, or cruel or unusual punishment in their home countries.
In Canada, the federal government has restricted Port of Entry asylum claims through the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) with the United States (US). The STCA bars refugee claimants that arrive at the Canadian border from the US, unless they meet a narrow category of exceptions. The STCA expects refugees to make an asylum claim in the first safe country they enter, in this case the US. The Canadian government maintains that countries will only be recognised as a “safe third country” if they respect human rights and offer a high degree of protection to refugee claimants. The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) requires the Government of Canada to continuously review the STCA with the US to ensure that it meets four conditions listed in the IRPA. The STCA with the US has been criticised by refugee and human rights organisations, based on increasing evidence of mistreatment of refugee claimants in the US.
In 2017, the STCA was jointly challenged by refugee claimants barred under the STCA, together with the Canadian Council of Refugees, Amnesty International and the Canadian Council of Churches.
In addition to arguing that provisions of the STCA were ultra vires, the Applicants argued that the combined effect of sections 101(1)(e) of IRPA and 159.3 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations unjustifiably infringed sections 7 and 15 of the Charter.
Under section 7, the Applicants argued that many asylum seekers rejected under the STCA are automatically imprisoned upon their return to the US as a form of punishment depriving the claimants of their section 7 rights to liberty and security of the person. With respect to section 15, the Applicants argued that the STCA with the US has a disproportionate impact on female-identifying refugee claimants. This claim was supported by evidence of a narrower interpretation of gender persecution asylum claims in the US and a one-year bar on all refugee claims in the US. The one-year ban on refugee claims requires an individual to seek asylum within one year of experiencing persecution – a restriction that poses a barrier for women and 2SLGBTQQIA individuals who experience gender persecution that involve unique forms of trauma that often result in delayed reporting.
The Applicants succeeded at the Federal Court in 2020. The Federal Court declared that the provisions enacting the STCA unjustifiably infringed section 7 of the Charter. The Federal Court held that the STCA was intra vires federal authority and declined to address the arguments put forward on section 15 of the Charter. As a remedy for the section 7 violation, the impugned provisions were declared to have no force or effect and the declaration of invalidity was suspended for six months.
The Federal Court ruling was overturned by the Federal Court of Appeal in 2021. The Federal Court of Appeal agreed with the lower court that the STCA is intra vires the federal authority but disagreed with the findings with respect to section 7 of the Charter. The Federal Court of Appeal, held that the two impugned provisions, which recognise the US as a safe third country, do not cause the harms being challenged under the Charter. Instead, the Federal Court of Appeal held that section 102(3) of IRPA, which includes the criteria for safe third country designation, should have been challenged under judicial review in relation to the alleged harms under the Charter. Regardless of the appropriate approach, the Federal Court of Appeal disagreed with the lower court’s factual findings on section 7, which the Federal Court of Appeal deemed insufficient and unrepresentative of the experiences of refugee claimants on the whole. On section 15, the Federal Court of Appeal agreed with the Federal Court’s approach to judicial restraint and also declined to address the claim based on equality rights.
Although it is not yet recognised as an independent ground to establish fear of persecution, if claimed, gender-related persecution must be assessed by the Refugee Division panel considering the claim. The assessment of gender-related persecution claims requires an examination of the link between gender persecution and the enumerated grounds in the Refugee Convention.
The Applicants argued that the STCA violated both sections 7 and 15 of the Charter. Under section 15, the Applicants argued that the STCA disproportionately impacts female-identifying refugees and provide an extensive evidentiary record of gender discrimination under the STCA. After determining that provisions of the STCA unjustifiably infringed section 7 of the Charter the Federal Court declined to address the section 15 claim. In doing so, the Federal Court made no factual findings on the evidence of gender-based discrimination within the STCA legal regime. The Federal Court’s disregard of the section 15 claim was upheld by the Federal Court of Appeal who determined that lower courts are not required to consider all Charter claims because section 15 “does not enjoy ‘superior status in a hierarchy of rights’”.
The joint Asper Centre, West Coast LEAF and LEAF intervention for the upcoming SCC hearing focuses on the Federal Court’s decision to not consider and make factual findings on all Charter issues raised that are supported by an extensive evidentiary record. The joint interveners argue that the Federal Court should have decided the section 15 claim and the refusal to consider the section 15 claim inappropriately applied the doctrine of judicial restraint.
The joint interveners support their position with three arguments. First, a purposive interpretation of the Charter as a whole requires a ruling on all Charter claims raised with an extensive evidentiary record. The Federal Court’s decision to decline considering the section 15 issue altered the subsequent justificatory analysis of section 1 and the appropriate remedy. Second, the lower court erred in its application of the principle of judicial restraint, which does not permit a court to favour one Charter claim over another. This flawed interpretation of the principle of judicial restraint has the practical implication of creating a hierarchy of Charter rights, within which section 15 is relegated to the bottom. Third, the Federal Court’s failure to address the section 15 claim minimises the issue of gender-based violence and historic disadvantage experienced by women and 2SLGBTQQIA individuals.
The SCC hearings in Canadian Council for Refugees, et al. v. Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, et al. will be heard in Fall 2022. The joint intervention by the Asper Centre, West Coast LEAF and LEAF argues that this case represents a unique opportunity for Canada’s highest court to send a directive to lower courts regarding the treatment of court cases with multiple Charter claims. This guidance on the treatment of multiple Charter claims in a single case is particularly relevant to equality rights under section 15 – a Charter provision that has been historically dismissed and has experienced uncertainty based on its “continual reinvention” in the jurisprudence.
The Asper Centre, West Coast LEAF and LEAF filed their joint intervention factum on June 15, 2022 and it can be read here.
Caitlin Salvino is a JD Candidate at the Faculty of Law and is the Asper Centre’s 2022 summer Research Assistant.
 The date of the SCC hearings for Canadian Council for Refugees, et al. v. Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, et al. is October 3, 2022.
 Canada (Citizenship and Immigration) v Canadian Council for Refugees, 2021 FCA 72, leave to appeal to SCC granted, 2021 CanLII 129759.
 Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, “How Canada’s refugee system works”, (27 November 2019), online: Government of Canada https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/services/refugees/canada-role.html.
 Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, “Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement”, (23 July 2020), online: Government of Canada https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/corporate/mandate/policies-operational-instructions-agreements/agreements/safe-third-country-agreement.html.
 Overview of the Canada–United States Safe Third Country Agreement Background Paper, 4, by Madalina Chesoi & Robert Mason, 4 2020-70-E (Library of Parliament, 2021) at 1–2.
 The four conditions that are evaluated in each review are: (1) if they are a party to the Refugee Convention and Convention Against Torture; (2) its policies and practices are in line with those two international treaties; (3) its human rights record and (4) whether they are party to an STCA agreement with Canada. See Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, supra note 3.
 “US as a Safe Third Country Infographic”, (June 2017), online: Canadian Council for Refugees <https://ccrweb.ca/en/us-safe-third-country-infographic>; Contesting the Designation of the US as a Safe Third Country, by Amnesty International & Canadian Council for Refugees (2017); “Refugees entering from US and Safe Third Country: FAQ”, (February 2017), online: Canadian Council for Refugees https://ccrweb.ca/en/refugees-entering-us-and-safe-third-country-faq.
 Canadian Council for Refugees v Canada (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship), 2020 FC 770, at paras 82–83 [Canadian Council for Refugees FC].
 Ibid at para 151.
 Ibid at para 153.
 The acronym 2SLGBTQQIA refers to Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual.
 Canadian Council for Refugees FC, supra note 8 at para 153.
 Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, SC 2001, c 27, s 101(1)(e), 159.3.
 Canadian Council for Refugees FC, supra note 8 at para 162.
 Ibid at paras 151–154.
 Ibid at para 163.
 Canada (Citizenship and Immigration) v Canadian Council for Refugees, 2021 FCA 72, at para 179 [Canadian Council for Refugees FCA 2021].
 Ibid at para 179.
 Ibid at paras 132–168.
 Ibid at paras 46–47.
 Ibid at paras 92–93.
 Ibid at paras 132–168.
 Ibid at paras 169–174.
 Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Chairperson Guidelines 4: Women Refugee Claimants Fearing Gender-Related Persecution, online: https://irb.gc.ca/en/legal-policy/policies/Pages/GuideDir04.aspx.
 The enumerated grounds under the Refugee Convention are having a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. See UN General Assembly, Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 28 July 1951, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 189, p. 137, 1951.
 Canadian Council for Refugees FC, supra note 8 at para 151.
 Ibid at para 154.
 Canadian Council for Refugees FCA 2021, supra note 19 at para 172 citing Gosselin, supra note 25 at para 26.
 Canada (Citizenship and Immigration) v Canadian Council for Refugees, 2021 FCA 72, leave to appeal to SCC granted, 2021 CanLII 129759 (Factum of Joint Interveners Asper Centre, West Coast LEAF and LEAF, at para 3).
 Ibid at para 4.
 Ibid at para 18.
 Ibid at para 4.
 Ibid at para 26.
 The date of the SCC hearings for Canadian Council for Refugees, et al. v. Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, et al.is October 3, 2022.
 Bruce Ryder & Taufiq Hashmani, “Managing Charter Equality Rights: The Supreme Court of Canada’s Disposition of Leave to Appeal Applications in Section 15 Cases, 1989-2010” (2010) 51 SCLR 505; Jonnette Watson Hamilton & Jennifer Koshan, “Adverse Impact: The Supreme Court’s Approach to Adverse Effects Discrimination under Section 15 of the Charter” (2014) 19 Rev Const Stud 191.
 Jennifer Koshan & Jonnette Watson Hamilton, “The Continual Reinvention of Section 15 of the Charter” (2013) 64 UNBLJ 19.