Canada needs to get out of the immigration detention business: Opinion

July 5, 2018

From a CBC News opinion piece: Until recently, many people in Canada were not aware that the Canadian government incarcerates thousands of asylum-seekers and migrants each year. This is unsurprising: detention operates mostly out of the public eye.

Immigration detention can mean an indefinite prison sentence for people who have not committed crimes. It wasn't until we started learning of the horrors of immigration detention in the U.S., where children were separated from their parents and detained, that we began really looking inward.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) oversees a legal and physical architecture of jails, immigration holding centres and police cells. The CBSA says detention is used as a last resort, in situations where, for example, officers need to complete an examination, or have security concerns, or have grounds to believe the individual will not appear for an immigration proceeding.

The problem is, detention is being used too often, too readily, and with dramatically harmful results.

Detention by the numbers

A massive overhaul of the immigration system by the Harper government in 2012 was designed with the intention of making the refugee adjudication systemfaster and fairer. At the same time, however, the government dramatically expandedits use of immigration detention. Now, the CBSA detains an average of 7,215 individuals a year (looking at fiscal years 2012-17) who each spend an average of 19.5 days behind bars. The financial costs to taxpayers of detaining a non-citizen in a provincial jail is $225 per day. (By comparison, Ontario Works provides a single person with a housing subsidy of approximately $384 per month!)

Parents who are ordered into detention are meant to decide whether their children should be "housed" with them or placed in foster care — an agonizing choice. Fathers are separated from mothers and kids, either through incarceration in different facilities, or through separate detention in the same facility.

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