Canada’s use of provincial jails to house immigration detainees will be dramatically reduced, and could be ended altogether, according to senior figures in the federal government.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and John McCallum, Minister of Immigration, both say the practice is inappropriate.
Goodale said it was not right to place people with ‘immigration or refugee issues with people who have been convicted of criminal offences’.
Canada is understood to have released South African Victor Vinnetou recently, held in immigration detention for 11 years, thought to be the longest serving detainee in the system.
“If someone is detained for that period of time, we don’t think that is appropriate, so we would be looking into finding out what we can do about that to prevent that kind of thing from happening again and to have a better policy framework,” McCallum said.
The Canada Border Services Agency has the power to hold migrants indefinitely if it feels they are a threat to public safety or a flight risk.
CBSA’s Detention Track Record in Numbers
- 15 deaths since 2000
- 3 deaths this year
- 6,768 detained between April 2014 and March 2015
- 2,366 of those release, 3,325 deported
- Average detention: 24.5 days
- Legal limit on detention: None
Critics have raised concerns over the lack of accountability for how these decision are made, plus the fact that both the US and UK have placed limits on how long they can hold people, where Canada has not.
Canada has three immigration holding centres, in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, while provincial jails came into use in 2014 under the previous Conservative government.
Support for ending the use of jails has gathered pace after three deaths this year 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 recently 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.
Solutions available to the Liberal government include upgrading the immigration holding centres, which Goodale describes as ‘are not very good facilities’.
There is also growing support for using a version of the Toronto Bail Program, which releases detainees under supervision.
Campaigners say it is encouraging to hear the government speaking about making changes, but that they cannot come soon enough.
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