A new report sheds light on the inadequacy of Canada’s immigration detention system in dealing with migrants suffering from mental health issues
On June 18th, the University of Toronto’s International Human Rights Program released a report scrutinizing the Canada Border Service Agency’s (CBSA) practices in treating migrant detainees suffering from mental health issues. Titled “We Have No Rights”, the report focuses on CBSA policy of placing detainees who have, or who later develop, mental health issues into maximum security prisons, where they are subjected to indefinite detention and substandard conditions despite not having committed any crimes. It is noteworthy that Canadian immigration and refugee lawyer and the Canadian Council for Refugees have raised serious concerns about these issues in the recent years.
According to the report, the practice of transferring detainees to provincial jails is premised on the fact that the immigration detention centers, in addition to being overcrowded, are ill-equipped to address mental health issues. As a result, detainees are transferred to maximum security prisons which are deemed more capable of providing them with better access to health care. However, the report’s findings indicate that better access to health care is far from reality for these detainees. Canadian immigration and refugee lawyers are urging that clients impacted by these circumstances need to bring their case forward to a legal representative and inquire if steps should be taken in Federal Court on their behalf.
In fact, according to the Report, medical conditions in detention go untreated for prolonged periods of time, leading to a prevalence of issues such as depression and anxiety, as well as exacerbating pre-existing conditions. The report states that once in jail, the detainees are essentially treated like convicts by being placed into windowless cells where they are isolated for long periods at a time, and made to wear the same prison jumpsuits as inmates, effectively labelling them as criminals despite not having committed any crimes. But unlike the persons convicted of criminal offenses with whom they share living quarters, immigration detainees have no way of knowing when or if they will be released, and in certain cases spend years in detention. Canada’s immigration and refugee lawyers are arguing that this violates the constitutional rights enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Although Canada’s immigration laws allow for lengthy detention of foreign nationals under certain circumstances, such as ensuring compliance with immigration orders or protecting the public, there are concerns that the CBSA practices with respect to detainees go well beyond achieving these objectives. As the IHRP report indicates, the CBSA’s practices in treating detainees are more severe than those of other Western countries, including the UK and the US, where there is a presumption against detention exceeding 90 days. By contrast in Canada, once a reviewing body determines that a migrant should be detained, they essentially place a heavy burden on that migrant to show compelling grounds as to why the subsequent reviewer should come to a different decision. This heavy burden effectively prolongs the length of detention for many migrants, and consequently places further strain on their already fragile mental states.
This is precisely why obtaining timely legal representation is crucial in immigration detention cases. A Canadian immigration lawyer can help determine whether the immigration authorities actually have a legal basis for detaining an individual and fight those detentions made without a legal basis. In addition, Canadian immigration lawyers can also work to prevent detentions from becoming indefinite by providing the reviewing body with alternatives that could justify release from custody.