The planned overhaul of Canada’s immigration detention system is gathering pace, as a series of meetings across the country has started to collect feedback on proposals.
The federal government is aiming to dramatically reduce the use of provincial jails to house immigration detainees, with purpose-build detention centres in British Columbia and Quebec among the plans.
Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, has already begun hosting meetings which are focusing on the new infrastructure projects, plus plans to improve mental and medical health services, under the new National Immigration Detention Framework.
The first meetings took place on September 13 in B.C., with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) planning further sessions throughout the fall. A full report of the meetings will be posted online after they have concluded.
Goodale said: “Canada is committed to working with stakeholders to make the immigration detention system more fair and humane, including the expansion of alternatives to detention.
“The engagement sessions this week are an important first step in this process.”
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 the majority of the spending, as the government looks to reduce the number of detainees housed in provincial jails.
There have been 15 deaths in CBSA custody since 2000 and three this year, giving further fuel to calls for the system to be modernized.
The agency estimates there are up to 500 immigration detainees held at any one time.
The deal to use provincial jails to hold those deemed a security risk, a flight risk, or who have health problems holding centre are not equipped to deal with, was made under the previous Conservative government.
As well as moving away from all forms of detention as much as possible, the Liberal government also want to improve health care on offer and increase transparency by making the holding centres open to the Red Cross, United Nations, lawyers and spiritual advisers.
A Red Cross report in 2014 found holding centres were overcrowded and inadequate health care available.
One option being considered is community supervision with a contractor already being sought to run a scheme that would oversee regular reporting, run substance abuse programs, offer help finding jobs and education opportunities and assistance with finding accommodation.
A recent government tender notice read: “A Community Supervision Program would allow for the release of an individual from detention through the provision of supervision and community services that effectively mitigate risk of release, as identified in a supervision plan developed by the CBSA.”
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