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33 Canadian Rabbis Call For Suspension of Safe Third Country Agreement

Thirty-three Canadian rabbis issued a public statement Thursday calling upon the Trudeau government to suspend Canada’s Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States. The initiative was led by Rabbi David Mivasair of Vancouver’s Ahavat Olam, and quickly received broad support from a number of his colleagues located in Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, Halifax and beyond. I wrote about it for the Canadian Jewish News here.

Below is the statement plus a full list of all the personal comments Rabbis involved sent me (below the signatures):




July 11, 2018

Thirty-three rabbis from across Canada issued a public statement today calling upon the Trudeau government to suspend Canada’s Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States. The rabbis representing a diversity of Canadian Jewry communicated directly to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen and all current members of Parliament. The statement is as follows:

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

Updated July 10, 4:30 pm EDT Rabbi Laura Duhan-Kaplan Vancouver

Rabbi Edward Elkin Toronto

Rabbi Sherril Gilbert Montreal

Rabbi Elyse Goldstein Toronto

Rabbi Emma Gottlieb Toronto

Rabbi Lisa Grushcow Montreal

Rabbi Denise Handlarski Toronto

Rabbi Matthew Kaufman Kingston

Rabbi Aaron Levy Toronto

Rabbi Jonathan W. Malino Ottawa

Rabbis urge suspending Safe Third Country Agreement 3

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

Updated July 10, 4:30 pm EDT Rabbi Kliel Rose Edmonton

Rabbi Steven Schwarzman Montreal

Devon Spier, rabbinical student Kitchener-Waterloo

Rabbi Cory Weiss Thornhill

Rabbi Raysh Weiss Halifax

Rabbi Stephen Wise Oakville

Rabbi Shalom Schachter Toronto

Personal Statements:

“I signed onto the statement because “love of stranger” is for me a key Jewish value. In ancient times, but surely just as much today, the most revealing test for the ethical and spiritual level of any society is how they treat the strangers in their midst. I see the US, my home country, as failing this test under this administration. That’s why I support suspending the STCA at this time.”

R’ Ed Elkin

“Torah, my own ancestry, and the universality of human rights all lead me to see the clear injustice being perpetrated on those seeking safety, asylumand refuge in America. To call our neighbour to the south a “Safe” Third Country in light of its current heartless practices flies in the face of the logic, and violates international standards in human rights.”

Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton

“Children remain separated from their parents. Thousands of people are still seeking refuge. Many Canadian organizations have urged our government to re-evaluate the US as a safe country — and yet our Canadian government doesn’t seem to be considering the realities of people’s lives when they are returned to the US after risking their lives to reach Canada. Further, knowing they’ll be turned back, people don’t even try to come here.”

Rabbi David Mivasair

“What motivated Rabbi David Mivasair, Rabbi Liz Bolton, and I to formulate a policy-specific statement as Canadian Rabbis is the current US president’s overtly hostile treatment of migrant families. As a Jew, the plight of those seeking refuge is close to my heart. Many of us would not be here if our grandparents and/or great-grandparents did not leave at the right time. As an American citizen living and working as a rabbi in Canada, I feel a moral obligation to respond from where I am and help apply international pressure to change the current US border policies, or at least encourage the Canadian government to reevaluate the US’ designation as a safe third country on a frequent basis.”

Rabbi Raysh Weiss

“Of the many things I appreciate about being a rabbi in Canada is that our national policy with regard to refugees aligns with our jewish tradition of “love the stranger”. A commandment repeated 36 times in the Torah. Separating children from their parents is not an act of love it’s an act of cruelty.

I am aware that Canada has its own checkered history with regard to refugees. When Jewish Refugees, children among them sought safe harbor from the Shoah, Canada’s response was, “none is too many.”

“But we have learned through the necessary tochecha (constructive rebuke) of history and we have become a model for other nations.”

“Canada must embrace its role as a global conscience on this issue and use the leverage we uniquely have with the Trump administration to give them a tochecha on this shameful and harmful policy of separating children from their parents.”

Rabbi Dan Moskovitz

“U.S. leaders are displaying their power by attacking the most vulnerable. Torah knows this temptation, so it tells us to protect the oppressed and limit the powerful. Thus, the least a rabbi can do is ask Canada not to place refugees in harm’s way!”

Rabbi Laura Duhan-Kaplan

“The great Avraham Infeld said that before the establishment of the Jewish state, the most common word you heard after Jewish was ‘refugee,’ Living in a time where the great flow of refugees has again become a global issue, it is a denial of our history for Jewish leadership to remain silent.”

Rabbi Michael Dolgin

“For me, the decision to sign this letter was in keeping with our congregation’s decision to sponsor Syrian refugees. As Jews, we are commanded to remember the stranger; and we know all too well the experience of being mistreated and unwanted refugees. Like many Canadians, we often feel helpless as to how to respond to the inhumanity we are seeing right now in the actions of the U.S. government. I’m grateful to my rabbinic colleagues who initiated this letter, so together, we could raise our voices.”

Rabbi Lisa Grushcow

Trying to be both civic and civil. Freelancer available for hire.

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