Criminal Law

Have you been charged with a crime? Have you been denied legal aid? We may be able to help. Visit our criminal law page to read more able the kinds of cases we can take on.

Family Law

Do you need advice about custody and access? Questions about child support? DLS may be able to assist. To find out more about these services, visit our family law page.

Refugee and Immigration Law

Have you made a refugee claim? Do you need help filing a Pre-Removal Risk Assessment or Humanitarian & Compassionate Grounds application? We may be able to help.

Housing Law

Are you a tenant in rental housing? Is your landlord trying to evict you? Does your apartment need repair? We may be able to help.

University Affairs

Are you a student at the University of Toronto? Have you been charged with an academic offence? Do you need advice about an academic appeal? Read more about our services for students to see if we can assist.

Employment Law

Lost your job?  Treated unfairly at work?  Problems with your employer?  We may be able to assist you.

Legal Education Workshops

We provide plain language workshops on a variety of legal topics. To request a workshop or learn more about our PLE program, contact us.


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DLS Challenging Canada-US Agreement to Turn Away Asylum Seekers at Border

Amidst recent changes in the United States’ asylum system and the increasing numbers of migrants entering Canada, many have identified the Safe Third Country Agreement as an unacceptable part of our legal system. Downtown Legal Services (DLS) represents two individuals challenging the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) at the Federal Court – as already reported by the CBC, Globe and Mail, and CTVNews. Three organizations have joined our clients in this challenge: the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR), Amnesty International (AI), and the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC).

The STCA is a bilateral agreement between Canada and the United States. Under the STCA, individuals who arrive or travel through the United States are ineligible to make a refugee claim at a port-of-entry in Canada. Likewise, individuals who arrive or travel through Canada are ineligible to make a claim in the United States. The STCA is premised on the belief the United States is a safe country for asylum seekers. We argue that the United States is no longer a safe country for asylum seekers.

The Law Underlying the Safe Third Country Agreement

The United States is currently designated as a “safe country” under section 102 of the Immigration Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), and is currently the only country with this designation. Under section 102 of the IRPA, the governor in council must ensure the continuing review of factors set out within section 102(2) of the Act. Under section 102(2), the governor in council should consider:

  1. whether the country is a party to the Refugee Convention and to the Convention Against Torture;
  2. its policies and practices with respect to claims under the Refugee Convention and with respect to obligations under the Convention Against Torture;
  3. its human rights record; and
  4. whether it is party to an agreement with the Government of Canada for the purpose of sharing responsibility with respect to claims for refugee protection.

2007 Challenge to the Safe Third Country Agreement

To date, the outcome of any review by the governor in council has never been published. However, a previous challenge to the STCA by CCR, CCC, and AI was upheld by the Federal Court in 2007. There, Justice Phelan of the Federal Court found it was unreasonable to conclude that the United States was a “safe country”. The decision found that since the United States was returning asylum seekers to countries where they still faced a real danger, it was not complying with its obligations under the Refugee Convention and the Convention Against Torture and infringed upon rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

This decision was overturned at the Federal Court of Appeal in 2008. However, the appellate court did not review if the United States was a safe country or consider the Charter arguments in their full scope. Rather, the Federal Court of Appeal found that since CCR, CCC, and AI, being organizations, did not have the appropriate standing to present claims on behalf of individuals trying to gain entry at the Canada-United States border. Notably, the Federal Court of Appeal did not reverse Justice Phelan’s finding that it was unreasonable to conclude the United States was a safe country.

Current Challenge

When individuals attempt to enter Canada through the United States, they interact directly with the Safe Third Country Agreement. The current challenge to the STCA includes arguments that the agreement infringes upon the section 15 and section 7 Charter rights of individuals crossing at the border.

Section 15 of the Charter concerns individuals’ rights to equal treatment and benefit of the law, free from discrimination. The section 15 arguments on the applicants’ right to equality focuses on the unique challenges faced by asylum claimants who are women. The current asylum system in the United States does not accommodate women appropriately for numerous reasons. As an example, a June 2018 decision by Attorney General Jeff Sessions states that individuals cannot use “domestic violence” as a ground to claim asylum. By precluding women from using “domestic violence” as a ground to claim asylum, they can be returned to countries where they would have no state protection from these acts. In this way, returning asylum seekers who are women to the United States denies them the full protection and benefit of the law.

Section 7 of the Charter concerns individuals rights to life, liberty, and security of their person. The section 7 arguments focus on the increased risk of returning asylum seekers to nations in which they face danger. Since 2007, the United States’ asylum system has not become any safer for asylum seekers. Many of the past concerns, including the high rates of return asylum seekers to countries where they face danger, still remain. By returning asylum seekers to the United States, where they will be returned to countries where they face a real risk to their life and security, there is a violation of the asylum seekers’ rights under section 7 of the Charter.

Information for tenants being pressured to leave their homes

In the wake of the tragic death of University of Toronto student Helen Guo, the Toronto Star has reported that the same landlord of five other properties has told their tenants to move out immediately. Some of those houses may be unlicensed rooming houses, and may violate property standards and fire safety codes. None of those things would make it legal to evict tenants without going through the Landlord and Tenant Board process.


  • The Residential Tenancies Act, 2006 protects most tenants* from evictions without
    1. A notice of termination on a form from the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB),
    2. An eviction application to the LTB,
    3. A hearing (or trial) at the LTB, and
    4. An eviction order from the LTB (if the Landlord wins the case).
  • Your landlord cannot change your locks themselves. Your locks can only be changed by the Sheriff enforcing an LTB eviction order.
  • Even if your landlord or a city official says your house or apartment is “illegal,” your landlord still needs to follow this process before you have to leave.


  • It is your landlord’s job to fix things in your apartment when they break, and to make sure your apartment complies with city bylaws and fire codes.
  • If your apartment needs repairs, write to your landlord.
  • If your landlord ignores you or does an inadequate job, call 3-1-1 and ask for an inspection from Municipal Licensing and Standards.
  • You may be able to apply to the LTB for compensation from your landlord.


  • To learn more about your rights in this situation, read “Does your landlord want you to move you?” from Community Legal Education Ontario available in English, French, Arabic, Chinese, Somali, Spanish, Tamil, and Urdu.
  • To learn more about your other rights as a tenant, visit the Housing Law section at
  • If you are a student at the University of Toronto, or belong to a low-income household in Toronto, you may qualify for legal advice or assistance from Downtown Legal Services.
  • You may also qualify for help from your local community legal clinic.
  • If your lanldlord is trying to force you out of your home, you should contact the Rental Housing Enforcement Unit for immediate help.

  • *note: the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006 (RTA) does not protect you if you share a kitchen or bathroom with the family that owns the house or apartment. Some other special forms of housing are exempt from the RTA.

    We are grateful for the funding provided by Legal Aid Ontario, the Law Foundation of Ontario, the Faculty of Law and students at the University of Toronto.