By TOM GODFREY
The care of minors, access to mental health services and violation of basic rights are some of the issues facing immigration detainees across Canada, the Red Cross says in a blistering report.
The report was published before the death last weekend of a man being held on an immigration hold by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) at the Niagara Regional Detention Centre.
Social workers said the man was frustrated about his lengthy stay at the Thorold, Ontario centre that has been a hotbed for hunger strikes and other actions by detainees against the CBSA over the long time they have to wait for release or their removal from Canada.
The Canadian Red Cross has made 28 recommendations to improve the care of detainees in a 2012-2013 report that was compiled after 63 visits to facilities to examine the treatment of those held by the CBSA.
The CBSA has an estimated 3,950 immigration offenders in custody across Canada. Most of them are detained in Ontario as they await removal for a range of violations.
The Red Cross warned that immigration detainees should not be “co-mingled” with convicted criminals and must be kept apart.
The detentions can be “extremely stressful” for newcomers to Canada, the report warned. “This is a particular concern for refugee claimants who have experienced armed conflict, torture, and other traumatic experiences,” according to the document that was obtained by Share.
The report said in many cases “the problems (inside prisons) constituted a failure to comply with national or international standards”.
The Red Cross has a long-standing agreement with the CBSA to monitor the treatment and conditions of people detained under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
Agency inspectors found denial of family contact, increasing imprisonment of minors and children, violation of basic legal rights, worsening mental health in detention and alternatives to detention as key areas of concern.
The report said alternatives to detention should be examined by the CBSA, which should implement a national policy on removals.
It said detainees may face difficulties with language or other problems and should have access to mental health services, including counseling.
The report also noted uneven access to mental-health services in immigration detention, calling the issue “one of great concern”.
Detainees should have more access to the telephone to talk to relatives here and abroad, it said, adding that those awaiting removal from Canada should be allowed in-person visits.
According to the Red Cross, in 2012, there were about 291 minors being detained by the CBSA and there should be a national policy governing minors in detention.
“This policy should specifically address minors who have additional vulnerabilities, such as those who are unaccompanied, those who may have been trafficked or those who require special physical and mental support.”
Inspectors found the CBSA had no facility to accommodate a family unit of mother, father and children – or a father with child – without having to separate family members.
Members of the advocacy group End Immigration Detention Network were saddened by the most recent detainee death in Niagara.
Syed Hussan, a spokesman for the Network, said about 100 Ontario detainees are on a hunger strike and some have refused to attend hearings.
“The Red Cross has joined a growing chorus of criticism against the inhumane jailing of immigrants without trial or charge,” Hussan told Share. “The Canadian immigration detention systems are unjust, unfair and cruel.”
He said the migrants should be released after 90 days if they can’t be deported.
“Canada should stop being a rogue state and end maximum security incarceration,” said Hussan.
Network lawyer Macdonald Scott said detention is meant to be an interim process while a deportation order takes effect.
“It has turned into a violent, brutal system that separates families, jails children and has drastic effects on mental health,” he said.
A CBSA spokesman said a number of steps have been taken to address the Red Cross’ concerns.