Canadian Rabbis Urge Suspension of Safe Third Country Agreement

A group of 32 Canadian Rabbis, including many Reform clergy, have signed a petition calling upon the Canadian Government to suspend Canada’s Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States until such time that Canadians can be confident that the United States is in fact a country to which refugee claimants can be returned safely.

Arthur Bielfeld, Rabbi Emeritus, Temple Emanu-El, Toronto, stated his position as a signator:

“I realize that there may be strategic reasons for the present Government of Canada to hesitate to suspend this Agreement. Nevertheless, as a Jew and as a rabbi I believe the immense and unnecessary human suffering created by the Trump administration’s refugee policies is a moral crime that overrides any political or procedural considerations.” 

The petition follows in its entirety.

Fran Isaacs and Helen Poizner

Chairs, The CCRJ National Social Action Committee


July 10, 2018 / 27 Tammuz, 5778


Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister

Honourable Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Honourable Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship

House of Commons

Ottawa, ON   K1A 0A6


As Canadian rabbis, we call upon the Trudeau government to suspend Canada’s Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States until such time that Canadians can be confident that the United States is in fact a country to which refugee claimants can be returned safely.

Our own Jewish people’s history instructs us of the necessity to find safe refuge in times of turmoil and lethal threat. 

Our people’s spiritual legacy teaches us that we must not stand idly by the blood of our sisters and brothers, regardless of where they are from.

The Trump administration’s decision to separate children from their families seeking refuge along the U.S.-Mexican border and its neglect of a plan to reunite them seems to us to amply demonstrate that the U.S. is not a safe country to which refugees should be returned.

The Safe Third Country Agreement designates only the United States as a safe third country, but this is not an automatic designation.  The Agreement requires the Canadian government to review continually the human rights record of the U.S. There were calls to end the agreement in January 2017, when the Trump administration implemented its travel and immigration ban. At this time, it is clear beyond any reasonable doubt that Canada must review and re-evaluate the U.S. qualification as a safe third country.

Nearly 2,000 children entering the U.S. for the purposes of claiming asylum between April and May have been separated from their families and are being held at detention centres. No one knows the effects of this trauma on these youth, but the human rights abuses are grotesque. According to ACLU, HRW, Amnesty International, and media reports, minors are being held in metal cages, given foil blankets and, in many cases, without any visual stimuli in the format of books or toys. In some cases, parents are told their children will be taken for a bath but are not returned. Teenagers in cages are required to care for the younger children, including diaper changes. At one detention centre, staff are not allowed to console, lift or even touch the children, no matter how much agony or fear the child may express. Some children being held are still breastfeeding.

As rabbis from across Canada cognizant of our people’s own history as desperate refugees and our tradition of seeking justice, we urge the Trudeau government to acknowledge that the United States is not a safe third country and to suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement until the U.S. meets its requirements.

Rabbi Y. L. bat Joseph, New Westminster

Rabbi Arthur Bielfeld, CM, Toronto

Rabbi Shmuel Birnham, Vancouver

Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton, Ottawa 

Rabbi Catharine Clark, London

Rabbi Jonathan Cohen, Montreal

Rabbi Jordan D. Cohen, Hamilton

Rabbi Lori Cohen, Waterloo

Rabbi Michael Dolgin, Toronto

Rabbi Boris Dolin, Montreal

Rabbi Laura Duhan-Kaplan, Vancouver

Rabbi Edward Elkin. Toronto
Rabbi Sherril Gilbert, Montreal

Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, Toronto

Rabbi Lisa Grushcow, Montreal

Rabbi Denise Handlarski, Toronto

Rabbi Matthew Kaufman, Kingston

Rabbi Aaron Levy, Toronto

Rabbi Jonathan W. Malino, Ottawa

Rabbi Miriam Margles, Toronto

Rabbi David Mivasair, Vancouver

Rabbi Dan Moskovitz, Vancouver

Rabbi Lucia Pizarro Wehlen, Hamilton
Rabbi Erin Polansky, Kingston, ON

Rabbi Jonah Rank, Halifax

Rabbi Kliel Rose, Edmonton

Rabbi Shalom Schachter, Toronto
Rabbi Steven Schwarzman, Montreal

Devon Spier, rabbinical student, Kitchener-Waterloo

Rabbi Cory Weiss, Thornhil

Rabbi Raysh Weiss, Halifax

Rabbi Stephen Wise, Oakville