Alberta To Stop Holding Immigration Detainees In Provincial Jails After Ending CBSA Contract

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Alberta To Stop Holding Immigration Detainees In Provincial Jails After Ending CBSA Contract
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Alberta is to stop holding immigration detainees in provincial jails after becoming the third Canadian province to end its contract with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).

Earlier this year, British Columbia, became the first Canadian province to take steps to stop the practice of housing migrants in provincial jails for the CBSA.

In mid-September, Nova Scotia followed suit.


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Advocates who have been calling on Ottawa to end housing of IRPA detainees in provincial jails across Canada praised the three provinces’ decisions.

“A year ago today, we launched the #WelcomeToCanada campaign to end immigration detention in provincial jails. Since then, British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Alberta have cancelled detention contracts with CBSA,” tweeted Samer Muscati, associate director of the disability rights division of Human Rights Watch.

“It’s time the federal government cancels the rest.”

The provincial government in Alberta has yet to either confirm or deny it is planning to or already has cancelled its contract with the CBSA as reported by CBC News.

The latest data from the CBSA shows that during the year that ended on March 31, 2021 there were 111 migrants detained by the border services agency in Alberta, another 310 detained in British Columbia, and 14 in Nova Scotia. 

That was during the COVID-19 pandemic when immigration was much lower than it is now. 

In the last full year prior to the start of the pandemic, 187 migrants were detained in Alberta, 1,818 in British Columbia, and 10 in Nova Scotia during the year that ended on March 31, 2019.

Detained Migrants Are Tiny Portion Of All Foreign Nationals Coming To Canada

Those detained represent a very small percentage of all foreign nationals coming to Canada – only a smidgeon more than half a tenth of a per cent – with only 1,605 detained out of almost three million foreign nationals, exactly 2,980,459, during the most recent year for which data is available. That’s the year that ended on March 31 last year.

During that year, 40 per cent of the migrants detained were held in provincial jails across Canada under contracts the provincial governments had with the CBSA.

On any given day during that year, Canada was detaining an average of 133 migrants and 328 of them were held for less than a day. Another 143 were detained for two or three days. 


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Many, though, were held for significantly longer periods of time. Those held for between 10 and 39 days numbered 422 during that year. Another 260 were held for between 40 and 99 days – and 162 were detained for more than 99 days, more than three months. 

Those longer detentions pushed up the average length of stay in a detention facility to 29.8 days that year.

Advocates for migrants rights are particularly incensed that many of these migrants seem to be detained for minor infractions. 

Many Of The Detained Migrants Are Unlikely To Be A Danger To The Public

The CBSA website reveals 250 of those detained in the most recent year for which data is available were considered to be unlikely to appear or be a danger to the public. There were 46 migrants detained that year because their identity was in question.

Only 36 of the detained that year were deemed to be a danger to the public and another 13 were suspected of criminal activity or ties to organized crime.

Under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), migrants can be and are kept in these provincial jails across Canada even when they are not accused of a crime.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have teamed up to fight the detention of newcomers in provincial jails across Canada through the #WelcometoCanada campaign.

On the campaign website, the human rights activists claim that between April 2017 and March 2020, more than a fifth of immigration detainees, about 5,400, were held in 78 provincial jails across Canada, many of which are maximum security facilities.

Detainees Confined In Small Spaces, Under Constant Surveillance, Say Migrant Advocates

These people were held in small spaces and were under constant surveillance and, in provincial jails, many are confined in dangerous environments where they might be subjected to violence, the campaign claims.

“It’s extremely shocking, it’s even outrageous that we can treat human beings this way in a country like Canada,” France-Isabelle Langlois, executive director of Amnesty International Canada’s francophone branch, has reportedly told the CBC.

According to the national broadcaster, Ottawa pays the provinces to detain these migrants in provincial jails with Ontario reportedly receiving $356.69 per day for each migrant and Quebec $301.18 per day for women and $270.28 for men.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International claim that, since 2016, Canada has held more than 300 immigration detainees for longer than a year.

“Canada prides itself on welcoming refugees and newcomers with open arms, even though it’s one of the few countries in the global north where people seeking safety risk being locked up indefinitely,” said Muscati.

“This leaves many without the certainty – or even hope – of knowing when they will be free again, which can have a devastating impact on their mental health.”

Canada Opens Its Arms To Refugees With Investment Of $26.9m

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged another $26.9 million to migration and protection-related projects in the Americas and professed Canada’s willingness to accept an additional 4,000 refugees from those two continents by 2028 at the 9th Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles.

“Canada values its deep and longstanding partnerships with countries across the Americas, which are crucial to improving people’s lives by driving economic growth that benefits everyone, advancing gender equality, and fighting climate change,” said Trudeau.

“At this productive Summit of the Americas, we recommitted to continue working together to build a better future for people across the hemisphere.”

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