Detention in Canada: Are We on the Slippery Slope?

Article excerpt

Abstract

Canada's detention policies and practices are far less draconian than those of our neighbours. There are nevertheless concerns about the commitment to detain more people as a measure of security and deterrence, in part as the response to September 11. This article describes the situation of detention in Canada, making reference to new legislation passed in November 2001.

Resume

Les politiques et les pracques de detention du Canada sont bien moins draconiennes que celles de nos voisins. Malgre tout, des inquietudes ont ete exprimees sur l'engagement a detenir plus de gens par mesure de security et de dissuasion--partiellement en reaction an 11 septembre. Cet article decrit la situation de la detention an Canada, tout en se referant d la nouvelle legislation adoptee en novembre 2001.

Canada's problem is that we often look good by comparison. This statement definitely applies to Canada's treatment of those who are detained. The horrendous stories of injustice and inhumane treatment of asylum seekers in Australia, France, the United States, and many other countries have lowered the standard to such a place that we risk being numbed to the fundamental human rights that are eroding, even in Canada.

The following brief comments are the reflections of a small non-governmental organization, Action Refugies Montreal, which visits regularly the detention centre located outside Montreal, Quebec. One evening each week, the detention worker, accompanied by several volunteers and law students, can be found providing legal information and emotional support to those who are in detention. Visits are restricted to the common lounge areas and detainees can decide whether they wish to avail themselves of this service or not.

Asylum seekers who are just entering the country as well as those who have been refused and are subject to removal are among the population detained. Statistics from Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) indicate that at any one time there are an average of 455 persons detained under the Immigration Act across the country. The average number of minors detained for immigration reasons at any one time, both accompanied and unaccompanied, is eleven across Canada. There are no statistics indicating how many persons detained are refugee claimants. The three main grounds for detention are flight risk, danger to the public (criminality and security), and identity.

In addition to providing information, Action Refugies workers attempt to find lawyers to represent people at their detention reviews, which are regularly scheduled hearings to determine if detention is to be continued or the person released. On occasion long distance phone cards are provided so that detainees can contact families and obtain documents to establish their identity or support their refugee claim. Another important aspect of the work is monitoring the conditions in detention: who is being detained and for what reasons. Anecdotal evidence suggests that persons with apparent mental health problems and communication difficulties are overrepresented in the population. Finally, we assist people to make arrangements to leave in dignity and with the resources needed to survive upon return to their country of origin.

Background

New legislation entitled The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) passed into law November 1, 2001. Implicit in the legislation is the motif of the immigrant-as-security-threat. (1) In the name of security, among other measures the new Act expands the use of detention. The grounds for detention remain the same but the new bill broadens the provisions whereby people can be detained at the port of entry and throughout the determination process. This is significant for refugee claimants. For example, a person can be detained in order to continue an interview; in other words, for administrative convenience. More disturbing is the identity document provision which directly affects refugee claimants who are sometimes forced to flee without identification, because it is their identity which puts them at risk. …