Asylum seekers take a walk outside Olympic Stadium as security guards look on in Montreal, Wednesday, Aug.2, 2017. The stadium will be housing asylum seekers after a spike in the number of people crossing at the United States border in recent months. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Five things to know about Canadian immigration detention centres

CBSA says there were 6,609 people detained in holding centres in 2017-18

The treatment of migrants has recently been thrust into the spotlight as accounts emerge of overcrowding and unsanitary conditions in American border detention facilities. Here’s a look at how Canada deals with immigration detainees.

Immigration holding centres, sometimes jails

The Canada Border Services Agency can detain foreign nationals and permanent residents under certain conditions — including if they pose security risks or are unlikely to appear for immigration proceedings — but must first consider all reasonable alternatives. The CBSA says the physical and mental health and well-being of detainees are key considerations.

A person may be detained at a CBSA immigration holding centre in Toronto, Laval, Que., or Vancouver. In other regions, people may be held in provincial jails.

The Toronto centre can hold up to 195 detainees, while the Laval one can house up to 109. The CBSA says both provide separate accommodation for men, women and families, have outdoor recreational areas, provide daily meals, access to games, televisions and telephones, visitation areas and medical services.

The Vancouver centre is at the city’s airport and can hold up to 24 detainees for up to 48 hours. Men and women are held separately while children may be housed with their mothers. The facility has common rooms, access to games, televisions and telephones.

The CBSA says everyone in its holding centres get three meals and two snacks per day, and special dietary needs, such as food allergies or specialized diets, are catered to.

The agency says it relies on provincial correctional facilities to hold higher-risk detainees such as those with a violent criminal background, lower-risk detainees in areas that don’t have an immigration holding centre, and those detained for more than 48 hours in the Vancouver area. It says it tries to minimize interaction between immigration and criminal detainees.

ALSO READ: Canada’s border service has removed fewer than 900 of 45,000 ‘irregular’ asylum-seekers

___

Thousands held

The CBSA says there were 6,609 people detained in holding centres in 2017-18, up from 4,248 a year earlier. There were 1,831 detainees held in jails last year, compared to 971 in 2016-17.

Stephanie Silverman, who is with migrant advocacy group Thinking Forward Network, says detainees have their cases reviewed at certain intervals — the first within 48 hours of detention, again after seven days, and then every 30 days until their detention is resolved.

“It can only really be resolved through release into the community, usually on conditions, or through deportation,” says Silverman, noting there’s no limit on how long a person can be held.

“It could be 48 hours before you get out, it could be three months, or it could be five years.”

In 2017-18, the CBSA reported 3.8 per cent of detainees were held for more than 99 days, while 47.2 per cent were held for 24 hours or less. The rest were held somewhere between 25-48 hours and 40-99 days.

The CBSA estimates it costs approximately $320 per day to detain someone.

ALSO READ: Greater share of recent immigrants landing jobs even as Canada welcomes more

___

Limited amenities

Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, says those in immigration holding centres are afforded an adequate amount of food and water but have limited amenities.

“They’re not allowed to have internet access which makes it very difficult for them to communicate with family members or others that may be able to help them get the documents that they need,” she says, adding that detainees also have restricted access to phone calls.

The CBSA says it provides on-site access to NGOs and legal counsel at holding centres where possible, and notes that a detainee can ask to speak to a CBSA officer at any time, or ask to see legal counsel or an NGO rep.

The agency also says it has on-site medical, nursing, psychological and psychiatric care within CBSA-run facilities. Those with special needs are dealt with on a case-by-case, it says.

Detainees held in jails are subject to the same rules as inmates. If a jail goes into lockdown, detainees have to deal with the situation and it can be difficult for family and others to visit them, Dench says.

“We’re talking about people here who have not been accused of any crime, and yet they are treated according to rules that are invented and problematic in themselves for people who are accused or convicted of a crime,” she says. ”(It’s) completely unfair.”

____

Parents decide if families stay together

Canadian law states that the best interests of the child must be observed in immigration holding centres. The CBSA says children are detained only as a last resort.

In 2017-18, the CBSA says there were 151 minors detained. Of those, 144 were accompanied by their parent or guardian, and seven were unaccompanied.

In theory, parents largely decide whether or not their child remains with them in detention, but Hanna Gros, an immigration and refugee lawyer, says the situation can be a ”catch-22.”

“This is really a false choice,” she said. ”When you’re new to a country, you don’t necessarily know anybody here, you don’t have family friends, contacts or community support. You have people here who are left with really horrifying choices to make in these situations.”

If a child has Canadian citizenship and their parents are considered non-citizens when detained, the children themselves are not considered detainees if their parents keep their kids with them, Gros says.

ALSO READ: Acting U.S. border boss quits amid uproar over migrant children

____

Leaving can be hard

For a migrant to be deported to another country, both countries have to agree to the person leaving one state and coming to another, says Silverman.

“Deportation is a two-way agreement between states, and not so much contingent on the individual,” she says. “There has to be an admission or an entrance of some sort into a another state.”

If neither the state nor the person leaving the country can verify the detainee’s identity, the person has to prove it from inside a detention centre, which can be hard, Silverman says.

For immigrants with a criminal record, the process can be even more difficult.

Certain states don’t issue travel documents for nationals who have been convicted of crimes in another country, which could also lengthen the detention process, Silverman says.

____

Emerald Bensadoun, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Voters in Saanich North and the Islands, here lining up outside Sidney’s Mary Winspear Centre on the first day of advanced voting, are among the provincial leaders in getting in their votes early, with some 20 per cent (10,174) of eligible voters have already cast their ballots. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
It’s Election Day in B.C.: Here’s what you need to know to vote

B.C.’s snap election has already broken records for advance voter turnout, mail-in ballots

Shay Baker, 17, hasn’t been seen or heard from since Oct. 21 and is wanted on outstanding warrants. (Victoria Police Department)
Victoria police searching for high-risk missing youth

Shay Baker, 17, is wanted on outstanding warrants

Plastic Ocean by Oak Bay resident Gabriela Hirt is in the Federation of Canadian Artist’s “Crisis” exhibition on now in Vancouver. (Gabriela Hirt/cropped to fit)
Oak Bay artist wins juried show in Vancouver

Pair of Oak Bay artists part of ‘Crisis’ exhibition

The M’akola Housing Society is looking to build two new residences in Sooke to help provide affordable accommodation for local Indigenous people. The projects were granted nearly $1.1 million toward their construction through the Regional Housing Trust Fund. (Photo courtesy M’Akola Housing Society)
Regional Housing First Program strikes another chord in Greater Victoria

Affordable housing partnership grants will help house over 100 people on income assistance

Online reservation service, First Table, allows Victoria diners to have dinner at half-price if they’re willing to be flexible about when they go. (Black Press Media file photo)
New reservation service allows Victoria residents to dine out at half price

First Table gives Victoria diners 50 per cent off when they book tables during off-peak hours

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

Advance polls are open from Oct. 15 to 21 with election day on Oct. 24. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Liberals Leader Andrew Wilkinson, BC Greens Sonia Furstenau, BC NDP John Horgan (The Canadian Press photos)
British Columbians vote in snap election called during COVID-19 pandemic

At dissolution, the NDP and Liberals were tied with 41 seats in the legislature, while the Greens held two seats

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

Green party Leader Sonia Furstenau arrives to announce her party’s election platform in New Westminster, B.C., on October 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Green party says it’s raised nearly $835,000 in 38 days

NDP Leader John Horgan is holding his final virtual campaign event

U.S. border officers at the Peace Arch crossing arrested two men on California warrants this week. (File photo)
Ottawa predicts system delays, backlogs unless court extends life of refugee pact

Canada and the United States recognize each other as safe places to seek protection

The possibility of the Canadian Premier League expanding to the Fraser Valley has been floated online. (Facebook photo)
Canadian Premier League possibly eyeing Fraser Valley expansion

Soccer league looking to add ninth team to the mix, B.C. markets potentially rumoured

Most Read