Lesson Four: Asylum Seekers in Canada

By: Doriane Ossene

Doriane Ossene

Education Collaborator

Doriane’s background includes education in France and learning a lot about Canada through her studies at York University in International Studies and Canadian studies, which she will be graduating from in 2023. She is passionate about stories people don’t know about and loves making them known. Her dream is to work in a field that supports underrepresented communities, in Canada and around the world.

Suggested Subject Areas


Grade Level

Adaptable across 9-12

Learning Goals

Lesson Outline 

Note: the following lesson directly addresses students while giving them instructions on how to proceed through the learning (i.e. the “you” is the student).

Before the Declaration

Read through a few of the events presented in the “Canada: A History of Refuge” publication by the Government of Canada.

Using this resource and your knowledge from previous lessons, what do you think the Government of Canada seems to take pride in when it comes to its treatment of and policy toward refugees and asylum seekers?
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According to the knowledge you acquired throughout the previous lessons, name the main difference between a refugee and an asylum seeker. You can read both definitions in the article “Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Migrants” of Amnesty International to support your answer.
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Using quick online research, or your personal knowledge, name an event that pushed people to seek asylum (as defined in the introductory activity) in a country different from their country of citizenship, prior to 1948.
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Proclamation of the Declaration

Revisit Article 14 of the UDHR by reading it below:

How does Article 14 set out to protect and support refugees?
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How do you think a country should apply Article 14 in regards to asylum seekers? What does Article 14 mean for asylum seekers—do you think it is still relevant for them?
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From what you can tell, does Article 14 provide directions as to how countries can proceed in supporting asylum seekers? Or how asylum seekers and refugees might be similar or different? Why or why not? If not, what additional information do you think might be helpful to include as guidance?
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Note: remember, as mentioned in the first activity of this series, the UDHR is considered a “soft law.” This means that countries are not obligated to apply its principles, and that they will very rarely face consequences if they don’t. 

The Declaration in Practice

Do a bit of research on Canadian laws for asylum seekers. You can use the following websites to help you:

What did you learn from your reading? Did you find many laws on the topic? If so, what did they consist of?
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There are two major documents that dictate Canada’s conduct regarding the treatment of asylum seekers: the 1951 Refugee Convention and the Safe Third Country Agreement. The next two sections will guide you through learning some details about both of them.

The 1951 Refugee Convention

Watch Part 3 of the following video:

What are the main topics/issues addressed in the 1951 Refugee Convention?

You can use the video above as well as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ article on The 1951 Refugee Convention.
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According to the video, what did the 1951 Refugee Convention set out to do?
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In what ways does the Convention echo Article 14 of the UDHR?
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There are three principles from the Convention highlighted in the video. What are they?
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Using your online research skills, and with the help of a dictionary (digital ones included), define the following principles:

Why are the principles above (non-discrimination, non-penalization, non-refoulement)  essential for asylum seekers?
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Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA)

The other document surrounding the treatment of asylum seekers according to the UDHR is the Safe Third Country Agreement between the United States and Canada.

Read the agreement itself and/or the explanation provided by the organization

Summarize the STCA briefly in your own words.
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From your personal understanding, what is the goal of this agreement?
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What category of migrants does the STCA apply to?

Note: you can refer to the first activity to review the different categories of migrants if necessary.
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Who does the STCA benefit the most? (e.g. asylum seekers, migrants, Canada, the US, everyone…) Why do you think so?
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Seeking Asylum in Canada

Until March 23rd, 2023, there was a noticeable loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA).

Read the notification and the specific page about border crossings below.

The loophole consisted in the fact that the STCA only applied to official border crossings. In other words, if a person sought asylum in one of the countries involved in the STCA (the United States or Canada) after they had crossed the border between both countries at an official point of entry, they would be returned to the country they first set foot in to apply for asylum. They would not be returned if they had crossed through any other point of the border.

What did this loophole technically allow asylum seekers to do?
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Watch the following video:

Based on the video, how did the loophole in the STCA potentially benefit asylum seekers?
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Watch the following video:

Using what you learned from both videos, name 3-5 challenges that asylum seekers face once they arrive in Canada.
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Journaling Activity

Note to teachers: this activity is intended as assessment for learning, but could easily become assessment of learning with the addition of a final step that supports the student in revising their draft into a polished final copy. Some elements that could be assessed via a rubric are: content knowledge, communication (including word choice and grammar), organization of ideas, use of examples and sources, creative & critical thinking about similarities and differences, etc.

Step 1: Brainstorm and plan

Using your notebook or scrap paper, write a plan for a journal entry or a blog post that compares the expectations set out for asylum seekers by the UDHR and Canada’s actual laws for and treatment of asylum seekers.

Your final piece of writing (which you will complete in the next step) should be between 300-500 words long.

Consider the following questions to guide you as you work:

Step 2: Write a draft

Using your notes from Step 1, write a draft of a journal entry or blog post that compares the expectations set out for asylum seekers by the UDHR and Canada’s actual laws for and treatment of asylum seekers.

Include an introduction and conclusion and body paragraphs. Each body paragraph should include a specific example to support your points.

Your final piece of writing should be between 300-500 words long.


Anonymous. “How Does Canada’s Refugee System Work?” Settlement.Org | Information Newcomers Can Trust, May 31, 2023.

CBC News. “Asylum Seekers Facing Dire Living Conditions in Canada.” YouTube, August 31, 2023.

CBC News. “What Happens to Asylum Seekers Once They Reach Canada?” YouTube, February 25, 2017.

Cheatham, Amelia, and Diana Roy. “What Is Canada’s Immigration Policy?” Council on Foreign Relations, March 7, 2023.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. “Claiming Asylum in Canada – What Happens?”, March 28, 2023.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. “Government of Canada.” Canada, March 27, 2023.  

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. “Government of Canada.”, August 4, 2021.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. “Government of Canada.”, December 12, 2023. “What Is the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA)?” Settlement.Org | Information Newcomers Can Trust, June 19, 2023.  

UNHCR United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. “The 1951 Refugee Convention.” UNHCR. Accessed March 25, 2024.

United Nations General Assembly. “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” United Nations, 1948. Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR): 1951 Convention & 1967 Protocol. YouTube. YouTube, 2021.