ICYMI: The real tragedy of Mavis Otuteye’s death: it didn’t have to happen

Jason Markusoff argues that the safe-third country agreement should not be blamed for Otuteye’s death along with the need for better and more consistent information:

It isn’t clear if Otuteye was actually seeking to make a refugee claim once she encountered authorities in Manitoba; nor are the grounds she might have cited in seeking protection from persecution back home in Ghana. Most migrants crossing into Quebec, Manitoba and British Columbia on foot aren’t seeking temporary visits, nor would they normally be granted them–they bid for refugee status, and if they lose, they face deportation to their home countries.

As the initial reports rolled in about a Ghanaian dying during a foot journey to Canada, immigration experts quickly decried the safe country agreement as the culprit. It’s the same problem they’ve cited throughout this upswing in irregular border crossing. However, this case may not point so surely to the folly of the U.S.-Canada agreement, but rather the merits of its compassionate exemptions: if a migrant is looking to be reunited with family, he or she is granted safe passage into Canada.

It also highlights problems in how information flows to prospective refugees. The Citizenship and Immigration Canada website explains this exemption to the safe country agreement. According to the National Post, Otuteye kept her border plans largely a secret, meaning few people in the woman’s orbit had the chance to help her identify her options. Often, immigrant communities rely on word of mouth or message boards to figure out how to traverse boundaries and reach safety. Immigration lawyers in Canada often get called, but are barred from offering counsel to would-be border-hoppers. Sometimes there is paranoia that a phone call to the wrong person can lead to an immigration officer’s roundup in the U.S.; this has become a bigger fear in the Trump era than before.

Perhaps, had the safe third country agreement never been in place, nobody would have felt the need to make their way into Canada by crossing ditches and fields, and nobody would have created a familiar path that Otuteye apparently felt compelled to follow. Even without this tragic case, there are good reasons experts cite to scrap the deal–the very risk of further deaths still exists among legitimate asylum-seekers, who genuinely have no alternative way of reaching Canada. But this tragic story does not, on its own, represent the straw that finally fells this problematic agreement.

Source: The real tragedy of Mavis Otuteye’s death: it didn’t have to happen – Macleans.ca

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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