Immigration lawyer Phil Rankin criticizes detention conditions of refugees in Canada
Those held for long periods can suffer serious consequences: UN
BY TARA CARMAN, VANCOUVER SUN AUGUST 29, 2014
A handcuffed man wearing an orange jumpsuit is escorted to a hearing by a uniformed guard. He has been transported from a provincial jail.
One could be forgiven for thinking that the man is a criminal. But in fact, such treatment is routine for those being held in immigration detention, even though they have not committed a crime.
Such was the case last week for Osman De Leon Reyes, a Surrey father of two who has no known criminal record. He faces deportation to Guatemala next week, where his family says he will be killed.
Canada has been criticized for such treatment — especially the holding of immigration detainees in prisons — by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, among other agencies.
“Detention of asylum seekers and refugees causes unnecessary suffering, with often serious consequences for health and well-being, in particular when people are held for long periods,” the UNHCR’s director of international protection, Volker Turk, said in a statement last month. “It also increases anxiety, fear and frustrations, and can exacerbate past traumatic experiences.”
“In penal institutions, asylum seekers are held under circumstances inappropriate to their non-criminal status. They are subject to unnecessary and disproportionate restrictions on their liberty, which impedes their ability to seek protection.”
Last year, almost 10,000 people, including asylum seekers, were detained by the Canada Border Services Agency, which has the authority to detain foreign nationals and Canadian permanent residents under certain conditions. The officer must have grounds to believe the person is inadmissible to Canada and that they are a danger to the public, a flight risk, unable to satisfy the officer as to their identity, or part of an “irregular arrival” such as a mass arrival by boat.
Any decision by a CBSA officer to detain a person must be reviewed by a member of the Immigration and Refugee Board within 48 hours, who then decides whether the person should remain in detention. The majority of detainees are released after the initial 48 hours, although the average length of detention was 20 days.
Nearly 200 of the 10,000 people detained were children, who are either housed with their parents at an immigration holding centre or separated and placed under the protection of provincial child welfare officers. Children are only placed in detention as a last resort, CBSA spokesman Tom Robbins said.
Fifty-eight per cent of detainees were held in a designated immigration holding facility and 42 per cent in provincial jails last year, said Robbins.
But there are important regional differences. All immigration detainees outside of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver are housed in prisons.
B.C.’s only dedicated immigration holding centre is a 24-bed facility at the Vancouver airport, which immigration lawyer Phil Rankin called “the most isolated place in Canada.