An innovative legal challenge is attempting to force the federal government to justify imprisonment of immigrants in a provincial court for the first time. The End Immigration Detention Network (EIDN) and lawyers for two long-term immigration detainees will be asking the Ontario Court of Appeals today to step in on endless immigration detention.
Lawyers for Glory Anawa, a 29-year-old mother; Alpha Ochigbo, her 18-month-old Canadian son (who has been imprisoned in immigration jail since birth) and Micheal Mvogo, who has been jailed for nine years in Canada, appeared before the Ontario Superior Court on December 15, 2014 seeking their release under the Habeas Corpus Act and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This special application requires the Ontario Court first to determine if it has jurisdiction over immigration detentions before proceeding to hear the merits of the case. Earlier this month, the Ontario Court declined to assert jurisdiction. Lawyers for Anawa and Mvogo are now filing an appeal.
“A year ago, nearly 200 migrants went on a hunger strike to protest immigration jails that tear them away from their families and community. Six months ago, we proved without a shadow of a doubt that the legal system that oversees immigration detention has failed to stop cruel and indefinite detentions. Yet nothing has changed.
“The Court’s refusal allows this injustice to continue, but we never expected a legal resolution. This is a political problem and requires a political solution. Imprisoned immigrants and their supporters are demanding immediate justice. It’s time for Canada to end immigration detention, and for Ontario to stop supporting federal anti-immigrant laws,” said Syed Hussan, community organizer with the EIDN.
Of the 7,373 immigrants jailed in Canada in 2013, 4,574 (62 per cent) were held in Ontario, many of them in provisional prisons. Since September 2013, nearly 200 migrants have been on a protest-strike in a maximum security prison in Lindsay, Ontario. Detainees have gone on hunger strikes and fasts, refused to attend their detention hearings and organized against lockdowns. Formed to support these detainees, the EIDN is fighting to end immigration detention and, in the meantime, is calling for a 90-day limit on detentions pending deportation, an overhaul of the detention review process and an end to the jailing of migrants in maximum security jails.
“I’ve been robbed of my life,” said Anawa from the Toronto Immigration Holding Centre. “Alpha and I just live every day, one day at a time. I just don’t know how my baby will react on the outside, this is the only place he knows. He sees security guards everywhere, searching people. I don’t know what it is doing to him. I just want this nightmare to be over. No one deserves to be locked up like us.”
Anawa’s counsel, Swathi Sekhar, criticized the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) for detaining the young mother and her child for so long.
“CBSA is unable to gain documents for my client’s removal, yet it insists on jailing her and her 16 month old baby for more than two years now,” she said. “There are untold numbers of migrants imprisoned in Canada indefinitely in a similar situation. We are calling for Ms. Anawa’s release and the establishment of a limit on indefinite detention. Allowing this appeal to go forward is in the public’s interest.”
Michael Mvogo’s lawyer, Jean Vecina, denounced Canada’s detention policies.
“Canada is a rogue state which refuses to follow international law,” he said. “Mr. Mvogo must be released as per the United Nations opinion issues in his case. This legal challenge opens the door to justice to migrants and gives Mr. Mvogo a real chance at freedom. We expect such challenges in provincial courts across the country and hope that legislative change follows swiftly after.”