Federal and Quebec Government Human Rights Violations
Immigration Detainees and Certain Prisoners in Quebec Deprived of Visits During Pandemic
– Diane Johnston –
The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) has not been allowing visits for immigrants detained at the federal government’s Laval Immigration Holding Centre, even though visits are permitted at Canada’s other two facilities in Toronto and in Surrey, British Columbia.
When questioned about this, the CBSA was unable to explain why.
At the Laval Immigration Holding Centre, persons detained through the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) may be refugee claimants whose files are incomplete, foreign workers or students whose visas have expired, or people awaiting deportation.
Those detained are already suffering from enormous mental anguish and to then be completely cut off from the outside world without any support is inhumane and cannot be considered anything less than torture.
The only justification the CBSA was reported to have given was that at present, the Immigration Holding Centre “does not have the capacity for regular non-contact visits because of the risks to public health.”
Visits to all provincial correctional facilities in Quebec have also been suspended since the beginning of the pandemic. The suspension of all visits, with the exception of lawyers, has been in place since March 14, 2020 , even though visits continue to be allowed in federal correctional facilities located in Quebec.
Canada Border Services Agency Detention Statistics for First Three Quarters of 2020-2021
Based on statistics provided by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) , during the first nine months of fiscal year 2020-2021, which began on April 1, 2020 and ended on March 31, 2021, Canada detained 1,198 people, with most incarcerated on average 29.4 days. Of those detained, 43 per cent were held in one of Canada’s three immigration holding centres located in Toronto, Surrey, British Columbia and Laval, Quebec. Another 44 per cent were incarcerated in a provincial correctional facility. The remaining 13 per cent were confined in “another facility.”
The highest number by far of those detained were in Ontario (790), followed by British Columbia (270) and in third place, Quebec (251).
The reason given by the CBSA for detaining the great majority of these people was: “Unlikely to appear” [(flight risk) for immigration processes].
The Time Is Now to Step Up Struggle in Defence of the Most Vulnerable
Mental health problems in Quebec are on the rise because of the inhumane conditions being imposed on society’s most vulnerable members by governments in the service of the rich. It is truly an indictment of how those in power in our society treat people and speaks volumes about the need to defend the rights of all and transform the situation so that such crimes against humanity are brought to a halt.
The excuse of the health emergency continues to be used to deprive people of their most basic human rights. This was the case with the closing of the irregular border between the U.S. and Canada to refugees at the end of March, 2020. This action, along with depriving detainees and prisoners of visits, and other violations of rights are violations of Canada’s responsibility for refugees under international law. Between March 2020 and mid-October of this year, Canada turned back at least 544 asylum seekers attempting to cross into Canada from the United States.
During the ban on irregular crossings, an unknown number of asylum seekers turned back were placed in indefinite U.S. immigration detention, with some subsequently deported. Over a year and a half into the pandemic, the ban on irregular crossings was finally lifted on November 21. Said Maureen Silcoff, a refugee lawyer and past president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (CARL): “It’s a relief to see the measures for refugees align more with our international obligations, and I think it’s been clear all along that public health and refugee protection could co-exist.” CARL took the government to court over the policy.
On December 8, Prime Minister Trudeau mimicked the position taken by the Biden administration, saying he will launch a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, because the government is “extremely concerned” by the “repeated human rights violations carried out by the Chinese government.” A week earlier, on December 2, Canada imposed sanctions against Belarusian officials and entities “in response to gross and systemic human rights violations” with regard to migrants at its border with Poland. Where was the Prime Minister when U.S. border patrol agents were literally rounding up Haitian migrants at the border between Mexico and Texas and deporting them back to Haiti during the pandemic? He shares that same level of concern for the most needy here in Canada.
In response to the situation facing the most vulnerable, including migrants, prisoners and the poor who have been further impoverished through no fault of their own, we must step up the struggle in defence of the rights of all. It is totally unacceptable that in Canada, basic human needs are increasingly not being met while all manner of pay-the-rich schemes continue unabated. Human beings, not vested interests, must occupy centre stage.
Our strength lies in our numbers and in the consolidation of our organizations to change what cannot be justified. Join in!
(With files from Radio-Canada and the Montreal Gazette)