Dozens of protesters gathered in front of Canadian Public Safety Minister office in Toronto on Tuesday demanding an end of an asylum treaty between Canada and the United States after eight people died by drowning as they tried to cross into country.
The deaths come less than two weeks after the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) pact was amended, allowing refugee claimants to seek asylum in the first safe country they arrive in.
Protesters presented a petition to Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, whose ministry is responsible for border patrol and policing in Canada.
Syed Hassan, the executive director of Migrant Workers Alliance, the group which organized the protest, said the petition had thousands of signatures calling for the end of STCA and demanding permanent resident status for all migrants.
“People are continuing to die. The denial of permanent residence status has become a death sentence in this country,” Hassan added.
STCA, which took effect in 2004, aimed to control the migration of asylum seekers. Under the original agreement, asylum seekers trying to cross from the United States into Canada or vice versa at formal border crossings are turned back and told to apply for asylum in the first “safe” country they arrived in.
As refugees started to enter in Canada from irregular crossing, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came under pressure to amend the agreement to cover the entire length of the U.S-Canada border.
Critics say this policy separates families and pushes immigrants to try to cross the border via deadly informal routes.
Total of eight people from two families died last week trying to enter the United States from Canada by boat across the St. Lawrence River near Akwesasne, Quebec.
Canada and United States have maintained that STCA has is the best way to manage the world’s longest land border.
“We have known for many, many years that creating this agreement will make our borders harder to cross and that people will still cross, but they will do it dangerously,” said Shalili Konanur, a lawyer at the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario, who works with undocumented refugees.
“What more evidence do you need to present within days of strengthening the agreement? Eight people died. We know that this won’t be the last time unless we do something about it,” Konanur added.