Canada’s Supreme Court has ruled that border authorities must take steps to help new migrants find jobs, allowing it to end its policy of turning back asylum-seekers who cross into Canada between official crossings.
The court’s 4-3 decision on Friday sends the case back to the country’s Immigration and Refugee Board to set new rules.
Until now, Canada has been the only major industrialized nation that turned back asylum-seekers traveling between official border crossings. Asylum-seekers cannot legally enter Canada from the United States unless they seek refugee status at an official border crossing.
But thousands of asylum-seekers have been entering Canada from the U.S. since Donald Trump was elected president last year, creating a massive backlog of cases.
The policy has put a strain on Canada’s refugee system, with more than half the cases pending more than two years.
“Families arrive just to find that they’ve been assigned to a public inquiry or to be detained. For children, it’s more difficult,” said the statement from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which was supporting the case.
“If authorities think they might need to turn people back to the United States, the international norm should be that they’re to give them a chance to seek asylum there … The Canadian government has never said, ‘No, we will not treat asylum-seekers preferentially at the border,’” said Geoffrey Pollard, the association’s legal director.
Nadia Kabani, spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, said in a statement that the government welcomes the Supreme Court’s decision and is committed to “allowing the safe third country agreements to operate in a way that will mitigate the impact of the irregular migration crisis and help put people on the pathway to citizenship.”
Under the international conventions, asylum-seekers must apply for asylum in the first safe country they enter, unless there are significant humanitarian or other reasons to go elsewhere.
Canada and the United States have signed two major deals that grant asylum to people who apply in the first safe country to which they have traveled. Canada agreed to allow in asylum-seekers from the United States after Trump took office.
More than 10,000 asylum-seekers entered Canada in 2016 and 2016 before the policy was implemented, and more than 20,000 arrived in 2017.
Trump wants other countries to do the same, signing a global compact on refugees that was welcomed by several countries, including Canada, Britain and Australia.
But critics said Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigrants means the United States has lost its moral leadership on the issue.