“At least Canada does not jail our immigrants like they do in the United States,” responded a student to my lecture on the migrant crisis at the University of New Brunswick last year. The student can be forgiven for believing that’s true given the media’s lack of coverage of the matter, but Canada is indeed jailing immigrants. New Brunswick is jailing immigrants.
Canada is not at all morally superior to the United States when it comes to how the country treats migrants and asylum seekers.
Since the year 2000, at least 15 people have died in the custody of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). Canada, along with the U.S., the U.K. and Australia, disgracefully practices indefinite immigrant detention.
Migrants and refugee claimants in Canada sometimes end up in maximum-security jails, serving sentences that vary in length from 48 hours to weeks, months and even years, such as in the case of Ebrahim Toure who spent five-and-a-half years in detention in Lindsay, Ontario. Before his release, Toure, a stateless person with all the vulnerabilities lack of citizenship rights entail, had endured 69 hearings before Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board.
But, at least Canada does not detain children like they do in the U.S.? Sadly, Canada does detain child migrants. In 2017-18, the CBSA reported that they had detained 151 minors. Of those detainees, 144 had been accompanied by a parent or guardian, seven had not.
Detention is not a humane way to treat people who are in need of a soft place to land. We know that detention harms physical and mental health. Rather than throwing migrants fleeing war and other kinds of hardship in detention, should we not be providing them with adequate housing, health care and community supports as they await decisions on their applications to stay in Canada?
Today, October 3rd, Canadians across the country are participating in the Day of Action Against Canada’s Detention of Immigrants. In Halifax, people are delivering a box of letters calling for an end to immigrant detention to Liberal MP Andy Fillmore.
In Fredericton, similar letters have already been delivered by No One Is Illegal Fredericton to Liberal MP Matt DeCourcey who also happens to be Canada’s Parliamentary Secretary of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.
DeCourcey has yet to respond to demands to end immigration detention, which is not surprising given that the governing Liberals have supported more immigration detention.
Were we not told that the Trudeau Liberals would be kinder to immigrants and refugees than the Harper Conservatives? More detention centres is a cruel way to respond to immigrants and refugees entering Canada. In 2016, the Trudeau government invested another $138 million in new immigrant detention facilities.
Migrants are currently being detained in immigration holding centres near Toronto, Laval and Vancouver as well as in provincial jails. As reported by the Canadian Press on July 7, 2019 and according to the CBSA, 6,609 people were detained in Canada’s immigration holding centres from 2017 to 2018, up from 4,248 in the previous year. Another 1,831 migrants were detained in provincial jails in that time period, an increase from 971 in the previous year.
Just last month, I learned that the women’s prison in my hometown of Miramichi was detaining an asylum seeker, a woman I had met in Fredericton. The 39-year-old nurse was struggling to stay in Canada with her son after fleeing family violence in Brazil. A group of caring people in Fredericton organized around the mother and son to make sure they had food and assistance filling out their applications to stay in Canada on compassionate grounds.
We were shocked when our friend was abruptly taken from Grace House, a Fredericton women’s shelter, by CBSA agents and brought to the Miramichi Women’s Correctional Facility before being moved to the Laval Immigration Detention Centre then removed from Canada with her son.
While my friend was being detained in Miramichi, I tried to visit her but no one was answering the phone on the day that visitor appointments were to be made. A correctional officer belatedly returned my call to tell me that they were short-staffed on the day when I should have been able to make an appointment.
I now realized why the visitors’ parking lot of the detention centre was empty on that Sunday morning I tried, but failed, to visit my friend without an appointment. I thought about all the women being detained there and how short staffing was making it impossible for detainees to receive visitors on a Sunday, a day when many of us spend time with our loved ones.
It’s time to end Canada’s traumatizing and criminalizing practice of detaining migrants who are simply seeking a home.
Tracy Glynn is a migrant justice activist on unceded Wolastoqey territory.