Even with Help of an Immigration Lawyer, Many Are Detained for Years
There is a crisis facing immigrants who are being detained by the federal government, and recent events have brought it into sharp focus. On March 13, 2016, the family of 39-year-old Francisco Javier Romero Astorga was told by the Chilean consulate that he had died in detention at Maplehurst Correctional Complex. The Canada Border Services Agency, however, has not confirmed this, nor will they release the details of the autopsy or cooperate in repatriating the departed’s body to Chile for his family to lay him to rest. Now, Renu Mandhane, head of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, is calling on Canada’s immigration officials to address the growing problem that is an immigration detention system that holds people indefinitely, often in maximum security prisons, without charging them. In an open letter to Ottawa Centre MP Yasir Naqvi, she said:
“There is a fundamental, systemic problem with using provincial correctional facilities designed for persons detained under the Criminal Code to detain immigrants who are neither criminally charged nor serving a sentence[…]Provincial correctional facilities have neither the infrastructure nor the staff expertise to handle immigration detainees in a way that accommodates their unique needs.”
An immigration lawyer may be able to counsel a detainee in one of their regularly-scheduled hearings—hearings which render the detention system not technically indefinite, just functionally so—but the success rate for these hearings is dismal, and falls to nearly zero per cent after the first six months. In findings published by the activist group End Immigration Detention, it was also found that not only do the chances of success vary by a frightening degree based on where in the country the hearing is held and which board member oversees it, but that fewer people are being released every year. While there is no clear discernable reason for this in official Canada immigration legislation, the rate of decrease represents an alarming trend.
Nearly 80,000 immigrants were detained under the Harper government, many of them unable to return to their countries of origin for various reasons. While making the appeal process more consistent and fair, and helping detainees secure access to an immigration lawyer could help, there is a deeper problem that must be addressed. Whether the new Liberal government, under the leadership of Justin Trudeau, will address that issue remains to be seen.
People who have come to our country seeking a better life should have the opportunity to be able to do so—this is one of the core values that this country was built on. But when new arrivals come to our shores, only to be arrested immediately and held indefinitely in a maximum security correctional facility despite not being charged with any crime under Canadian law, this creates an unjust and, for many, insurmountable barrier to those opportunities.
If you know someone who is being held in immigration detention without being charged, contact an immigration lawyer who may be able to help them.