Fix migrant detention program

By Admin Wednesday August 17 2016 in Editorial
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Abdurahman Hassan’s death at a hospital in Peterborough came in June 2015 after he had been restrained by two police officers. Prior to that, Hassan, a Somali refugee who came to Canada in 1993 and who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) had been under federal government supervision, but held for three years at Ontario’s Central East Correctional Facility in Lindsay.

The province’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) took a year to conclude that the actions by the two police officers were not ultimately responsible for Hassan’s death. This absolving of police actions is not surprising coming from the SIU.

Among 16 detainees who have died since 2000 while awaiting deportation, eight, including Hassan, died while under supervision of provincial prisons. Hassan, 39, had been incarcerated under an immigration detention order similar to those carried out by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).

What was beyond the purview of the SIU investigation to comment on is that under international guidelines for undocumented migrants, Hassan should not have been held in detention any longer than 90 days. Some detainees have been in custody for as long as 10 years.

Further, the 10,000 migrant detainees ordered held annually by CBSA are mainly held, as Hassan was, in provincial correctional facilities alongside people serving time for criminal offences. Many detainees are held without even knowing the reason. Neither are their families given access to information about their detention. Does this sound like Canada?

After the federal Liberal government’s show of opening the doors to Syrian refugees, this appalling system of detention should not be the final landing for many others fleeing troubles in other lands; many of whom, by the way, have fled troubled regions in Africa.

In addition, some detainees are minors who are being incarcerated with their parents or guardians. It is unconscionable that minors would be held in correctional facilities housing convicted criminals.

Sixty detainees at the Lindsay facility held a hunger strike to bring attention to their plight, which is perhaps why federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale finally came forward with an announcement of plans to respond to the growing crisis.

Goodale promises a $138-million program which would include replacement of holding facilities – one in Vancouver and another in Quebec – dedicated to housing detainees.

That does not however solve the current crisis of the conditions under which detained migrants are being held. Many are without proper health care, are placed in solitary confinement and are held in already overcrowded facilities.

These men and women should never have been placed in the same facilities as convicts. Their violations in the main would be arriving as refugees and therefore not having so-called legitimate documentation, or overstaying their visas or working here without a permit.

The federal government must immediately take steps to implement and follow international guidelines for migrant detainees including proper health care.

Goodale has promised as much, but in typical political fashion not before consultations take place.

Consultations must not become a mechanism for stalling on this urgent matter. Detention should only be considered as an exceptional measure according to international guidelines laid out by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). What exceptions would therefore justify CBSA detentions of 10,088 as occurred in 2013-14?

We urge Minister Goodale to make good on his promise and to move immediately on this matter. At the same time, the consultation that is absolutely needed is in regards to the matter of CBSA’s large-scale detention practice.

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