Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Space-Squeezed Border Agency Pondered Putting Immigrants in Federal Prisons

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Space-Squeezed Border Agency Pondered Putting Immigrants in Federal Prisons

Article excerpt

Feds pondered federal prison for immigrants

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OTTAWA - Canada's border agency pursued the idea of putting immigrant detainees in federal prison despite concerns about locking up newcomers with violent offenders.

Canada Border Services Agency president Luc Portelance raised the possibility with the federal Correctional Service because the border agency feared running out of space to hold people, newly disclosed documents show.

The proposal provides an inside glimpse of a federal organization straining to find accommodation for the immigrants it puts behind bars as the government was bolstering its powers to detain more newcomers.

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. …

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