April 24, 2017 – Canada’s federal government has released a new framework aimed at overhauling its Canada immigration detention system.
The ‘National Immigration Detention Framework’, released by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), looks at ways to end the controversial practice of putting immigration detainees in provincial jails.
It also looks at ways to considerably drop the number of children held in immigration detention, a highly controversial practice.
The document would represent a significant change in Canada’s immigration detention policies, although it is not a commitment by the CBSA. Instead, it is more of a statement of direction.
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CBSA detention policies have come under significant pressure recently, and this document is the result of consultations conducted in 2016 with stakeholders.
“The CBSA is committed to informing and engaging Canadians on government programming and policy proposals,” the report reads.
“Input received through this important citizen engagement activity will help inform transformations of Canada’s immigration detention program.”
Why Are Immigrants Detained?
Immigrants are detained if:
- They are deemed dangerous.
- They are a flight risk.
- They are unable to prove their identity.
Statistics show immigrants were detained for an average of 23 days in 2016, but there are cases when the detention has dragged into several months or years.
Canada is among only a few developed countries to place no limit on immigration detention.
Some European countries have set their limits as low as 45 days, Mexico has a 60-day limit, while the US Supreme Court says release should happen after six months in cases where deportation is unlikely.
Canada has drawn international condemnation for its policy, with the United Nations calling for a limit to be introduced back in 2015.
The federal government is concerned that by setting a limit, detainees will simply not cooperate with a view to reaching the set period before being released.
The report reads: “Constructive input from stakeholders and Canadians on the new National Immigration Detention Framework is critical to establishing a detention program that reflects Canadian democratic values ― one that is better, fairer and provides humane and dignified treatment of individuals while upholding public safety.”
Using provincial jails to hold immigration detainees is highly controversial.
Support for ending the use of jails has gathered pace after three deaths in 2016 and 15 in total since 2000.
Human rights groups have also raised concerns over the detention of migrant children.
More than 100 senior Ontario lawyers in 2016 signed an open letter to Yasir Naqvi, Ontario Community Safety and Correctional Services Manager, expressing concerns that detainees are having their basic human rights violated.
The letter read: “We are gravely concerned that there are no public laws or regulations governing when and in what circumstances an immigration detainee can be transferred to, and incarcerated in, a provincial jail.” It added that a third of the 7,300 immigrants in custody in 2014 were being housed in provincial jails.
Health professionals have also gathered together to sign a similar open letter.
Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government has significantly reduced the use of jails since coming to power in November 2015.
The federal government announced in August it would spend $138 million on improving Canada’s immigration detention system.
New, bigger holding centres in Laval and Vancouver will command most the spending, as the government looks to reduce the number of detainees housed in provincial jails.
Community monitoring programs are also set to be used more.
The report reads: “Expanding the availability and use of detention alternatives, working closely with trusted partners, improving immigration detention infrastructure and thoroughly reviewing detention policies and standards are critical to transforming Canada’s immigration detention program.”
Canadians can have their say on immigration detention by filling in a CBSA questionnaire here.
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