Canada's Immigration Detention Practices and Why They Should be Abolished
In light of recent immigration detentions and family separations by the thousands in the United States, more attention is being paid to the fact that the Canadian government also incarcerates thousands of asylum seekers and refugees every year.
These incarcerations often take place away from the public eye. Refugees who have not committed crimes are at times detained for indefinite periods of time upon arrival in Canada.
Canada’s Immigration Detention Practices
According to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) detention is a last resort for asylum seekers who have made their way into Canada. The CBSA states that detention is only used when border officers need to examine the migrant, have security concerns, or have grounds to believe the asylum seeker will not appear for an immigration proceeding.
In reality, however, detention is being used far too often in Canada and can be very harmful to the migrants detained. The practice of immigration detention expanded dramatically under the Harper government in 2012. From 2012 to 2017, the CBSA detained an average of 7,215 individuals who each spend an average of 19.5 days incarcerated. Detaining an immigrant costs the Canadian taxpayers $225 per individual per day.
Canada’s immigration detention practices are very problematic because individuals with children must decide if their children will be housed with them in detention centres or placed in foster care while they await proceedings. Men are often separated from women and children. In Canada, immigrants are also at times detained without official time limits, staying behind bars indefinitely without having committed any crime.
Shifting Away from Indefinite Incarceration
The practice of detaining immigrants in Canada needs much greater oversight and accountability and a shift needs to occur away from the incarceration of refugees and asylum seekers who have not committed any crime.
Accountability is painfully lacking. The CBSA released statistics that show that in 2016/17, 439 people were detained for more than 90 days and the Canadian public doesn’t know if those people were later released or deported. There are also no independent monitoring authorities or a government watchdog to oversee immigration detention decisions in Canada.
Claiming asylum for refugees and immigrants is a human right, but the practice of indefinite detention is unjustly punitive. Experts recommend a watchdog be put in place to oversee decisions around immigration detention and wish to ensure lawyers are present at every detention centre to provide services and information to asylum seekers. A shift must occur away from detention centres and towards shelters for these individuals. We currently treat some asylum seekers similar to criminals, forcing them to wear ankle shackles and to travel hours to CBSA check-ins often weekly or bi-weekly when phone calls or Skype check-ins would suffice.
The status quo of Canada’s immigrant detention practices is not acceptable. The system is failing immigrants who have a fundamental right to seek asylum in Canada. With improved government funding, appointing better security measures, and allowing individuals in detention centres to have access to lawyers, we can begin to make this shift.