Trump’s border bigotry should prompt Canada to suspend refugee agreement with U.S.

By Alex Neve, Secretary-General of Amnesty International Canada
Donald Trump has clearly decided that several thousand Honduran refugees and migrants who have formed a “caravan” that has been making its way through Guatemala and into Mexico over the past week, with the eventual intention to attempt to cross into the United States, offer a wedge political issue that may help Republicans in the mid-term elections.
And so, he has been spewing toxic, hate-filled threats and untruths about the #CaravanaMigrante at a series of political rallies meant to boost the fortunes of various candidates for Congress.
It is a display of contempt for the rule of law, for human rights and for international norms of refugee protection. It is laced with bigotry and devoid of compassion. And it is not only instructive as to the sorry state of affairs along the U.S.’s southern border, it has serious ramifications for the northern border with Canada as well.
True, it is only the latest in a raft of executive orders, tweets, new policies and inflammatory speeches over the past 18 months focused on punishing and demonizing refugees and migrants. But it must become the moment when the Canadian government finally acknowledges that the rights of refugees and migrants are unrelentingly under siege in Trump’s America and that the Canada/U.S. “Safe” Third Country Agreement will be lifted.
The rhetoric has been ugly. Repeatedly and often to thundering applause, Trump insists that the caravan is made up of criminals. He proclaims that they are unwanted and will be turned away. And he threatens to deploy the U.S. military along the border with Mexico to make good on his promise that they will be kept out.
It is the disgraceful conduct of a leader enthusiastically vilifying refugees and migrants to score cheap, divisive political points.
Meanwhile, along the caravan’s trail, this has become a human drama with major political ramifications, playing out step by step as exhausted and determined Hondurans push on, under the glare of journalists from around the world.
Lost along the way is one simple truth: This is all about human rights.
Honduras has been mired in a wrenching human rights crisis for years. At an alarming rate, human rights defenders are attacked and killed with impunity (witness the fiasco of the trial presently underway against eight individuals accused of murdering internationally renowned Indigenous leader and environmental activist Berta Caceres in 2016). Political opponents and grassroots activists who protested the outcome of Honduras’s contentious 2017 presidential election remain locked up and denied fair trials. And collusion between organized criminal networks and state officials leaves young people at risk of being preyed upon, forced to join gangs or face the consequences.
All of this takes place against a bleak backdrop of very few prospects for finding work and building a secure future in Honduras. It is no wonder that thousands of people are fleeing the country, many of whom notably have strong claims to refugee status.
Those are the “criminals” Trump derides.
The Canada/U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, concluded in 2004, has always been based on a fiction; the notion that refugees and migrants in the United States are treated in accord with international standards.
A lengthy 2007 federal court ruling overturned the agreement on that basis. That ruling was later reversed on appeal, largely on legal grounds, not because the conclusions about refugee rights violations in the United States were wrong.
That is why official border posts along the 49th Parallel are closed to refugees, who have instead been forced to find irregular ways to cross into Canada to make their claims for protection.
That means some people are making dangerous journeys to cross the border. That means that an unfounded and breathless narrative of crisis and “illegal” migrants has been promoted by some politicians and commentators. And that means that no matter how bad it gets in the U.S., rather than send a strong message of disapproval, the Canadian government gives Trump a nod and wink of acquiescence. All good here.
Trump does not even pretend to offer a place of safety for refugees. It is time for Canada to recognize that reality. A court challenge is once again underway. But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau need not wait for a judge to order his government to do the right thing. It is time to suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement.  Now.
This op-ed originally appeared on the Ottawa Citizen’s website.