Feb 7, 2018 – A professor at the University of Toronto has described the Canada Border Services Agency plan to electronically tag immigrants as ‘a step backwards’ in attempts to find an alternative to immigration detention and use of provincial jails.
Stephanie J Silverman says the CBSA policy amounts to treating subject like criminals, in exactly the same way as throwing them in jail.
Silverman calls on the CBSA to consider a program that treats each migrant as an individual, providing ‘quality support and services to migrants based on their individual needs so that their cases can be resolved in the community’.
“While superficially appealing, this program is a step backwards as an alternative to the inhumane practice of detaining migrants, sometimes in provincial jails,” Silverman wrote in an article published at nationalpost.com.
Ottawa is investing in a range of alternatives to limit the number of people being held in Canada immigration detention.
The CBSA is investing in a state-of-the-art phone system that includes voice recognition and the ability to pinpoint a person’s location via GPS. The new system is expected to be launched in April 2018.
It is part of several measures being introduced to reduce the reliance on detention, which can see immigrants detained for indefinite periods without trial in Canadian provincial jails.
Canada’s use of jails and the indefinite detention period has drawn criticism from the human rights wing of the United Nations, with the majority of its peers, including the U.S. and the U.K., placing limits on how long people can be detained without trial.
The most recent available figures show more than 6,500 people were held in immigration detention in 2015-16, 200 of them children.
Also, central to the effort to move away from detention will be a community monitoring program operated by charities including the Salvation Army and the John Howard Society of Canada, also set to begin in April.
Why Are Immigrants Detained?
Immigrants are detained if:
- They are deemed dangerous.
- They are a flight risk.
- They are unable to prove their identity.
The new Voice Reporting System will allow subjects to check in with the CBSA by phone, with the computer system able to authenticate their identity via voice recognition, and their location via GPS. It means officers will be able to keep track of subjects who may otherwise have been able to disappear within Canada.
At the same time, people who are not deemed a security risk will be able to move around freely while their immigration cases are being worked on.
Critics point out that even the best voice recognition technology is nowhere near 100 per cent accurate. The CBSA in its tender document asks for accuracy of 60 per cent or higher, based on a recording made before the subject is released. The agency does require the technology to include a number of measures to prevent spoofing.
Federal Government Framework
Ottawa released a framework aimed at overhauling the immigration detention system in 2017.
The CBSA’s ‘National Immigration Detention Framework’ signalled a significant change in Canada’s immigration detention policy, which it is now putting into action
Using provincial jails to hold immigration detainees is highly controversial. Support for ending the use of jails 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. Health professionals have also gathered together to sign a similar open letter.
The federal government announced in August 2016 it would spend $138 million on improving Canada’s immigration detention system.
New, bigger holding centres in Laval and Vancouver will command most of the spending, as the government looks to reduce the number of detainees housed in provincial jails.
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