ICYMI: Canada slammed for ‘culture of secrecy’ over immigration detention

Useful guarding against Canadian smugness:

Canada has come under fire for a lack of transparency in its immigration detention system and its practice of detaining vulnerable groups, including children and those with mental health conditions.

“The lack of independent national and international oversight bodies significantly contributes to the culture of secrecy surrounding the Canadian immigration detention system,” said a report by the Geneva-based Global Detention Project, an international research group that promotes the human rights of migrants in detention.

“There remain critical gaps in public information, including concerning which prisons are in use at any given time for immigration-related reasons.”

Immigration detention in Canada has been in the spotlight over the last two years with a series of deaths of migrants held in facilities for immigration violations. As of last November, the report said at least 16 people have died in immigration detention while in the custody of the Canada Border Services Agency since 2000.

On Wednesday, more than 2,000 Canadian health-care organizations and health-care providers, including doctors, nurses, social workers, psychologists and midwives, signed an open letter calling on Ottawa to stop detaining children and end the Canada-United States bilateral agreement that restricts refugees to seeking asylum in the first country of their arrival.

Although public pressure has prompted Ottawa to implement a new immigration detention framework to decrease the number of long-term detainees, reduce the use of maximum-security jails and expand the use of alternatives to detention, the report said there is no mention of limiting the length of time people are detained, or to establish formal and independent monitoring of detention conditions.

Citing statistics from the border agency, the report said 371 children were detained in the last two years, accompanying their detained parents or guardians, mostly for reasons of identity or because they are considered a flight risk. In other cases, they are separated from detained parents and placed in foster care.

Even when there are no grounds for detention, children may be “housed” in detention at federal immigration holding centres instead of jails. Nevertheless, they would still be housed separately from their fathers because family rooms are restricted to mothers and children, the report noted.

“These de facto child detainees are subject to the same detention conditions as those under formal detention orders. However, often resembling medium security prisons, detention facilities have been described by numerous rights groups as ‘woefully inadequate and unsuited for children,’” said the 39-page report.

“Children in detention with their parents have been ‘invisible’ to the law as they are not officially considered detained and thus cannot benefit from detention review hearings. The only path for considering the best interests of the child in these situations is through review hearings of their parents.”

The Canada Border Services Agency works to ensure that it is exercising its responsibility for detentions to the highest possible standards with regard to physical, mental health and overall well-being of detainees as well as the safety and security of Canadians as the primary consideration, a spokesperson said.

In November, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale issued a ministerial direction to CBSA to, as much as humanly possible, keep children out of detention and keep families together. The ministerial direction makes it clear that the best interests of the child must be given primary consideration.

The border services agency’s new guidelines say every effort should be made to reduce the number of vulnerable persons placed in detention, but the report criticizes the framework, saying it “is not a concrete plan as much as it is a general set of intentions (and) stops short of specifying precisely how the government plans on achieving this goal.”

Source: Canada slammed for ‘culture of secrecy’ over immigration detention

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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