With number of immigrant detainees growing, border agency explored holding them in prisons

Officials doing their job to find possible solutions to one of the consequences of a change in policy:

In a letter to Correctional Service commissioner Don Head, Portelance noted the border agency was assessing options for “increasing its capacity” and wanted to explore the prison service’s “expertise and facilities to hold immigration detainees.”

The border agency holds people who are considered a flight risk or a danger to the public, and those whose identities cannot be confirmed.

It has also become easier to detain newcomers. Federal changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act allow officials to hold people 16 or older who enter Canada as part of an “irregular arrival” — a group whose origins are unclear or a case where criminal human smuggling is suspected.

An internal border agency background memo notes the organization has three immigration holding centres across Canada, but relies on provincial jails in other locations to house higher-risk detainees.

“In some cases, the provinces have indicated their intention to cease holding detainees in the long-term or limit how many individuals can be held within their facilities,” the memo says.

It adds that the federal government’s “current legislative agenda concerning immigration matters and the potential for an increase in the daily detained population” make discussions with the prison service necessary.

The documents, prepared in early 2012, were recently released under the Access to Information Act.

Neither the border agency nor the prison service would make anyone available for an interview. However, in emailed answers to questions, the agencies confirmed that discussions about use of federal prisons took place.

The border agency did an internal review of options for the detention program that was presented to the organization’s executive for approval early this year, said agency spokeswoman Line Guibert-Wolff.

“As a result of this process, in February 2014, the CBSA decided that federal correctional facilities would not be used to hold immigration detainees.”

With number of immigrant detainees growing, border agency explored holding them in prisons

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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