Nova Scotia will no longer house immigration detainees in provincial jails under Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) after ending its deal with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).
The move comes on the heels of a similar decision by British Columbia, making Nova Scotia only the second province in Canada to take steps to stop the practice.
“Nova Scotia has confirmed it is terminating its immigration detention contract with CBSA,” tweeted Samer Muscati, the associate disability rights director at Human Rights Watch, on Wednesday.
“With two provinces canceling their contracts within weeks, the federal government should show leadership by canceling the rest.”
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Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have teamed up to fight the detention of newcomers in provincial jails across Canada in a campaign dubbed #WelcometoCanada.
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.
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.
In its letter-writing campaign to put an end to this practice on this website, #WelcometoCanada urged Canadians to write to Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston and ask him to end the province’s contract with the CBSA.
“Although immigration detainees are held for non‐criminal purposes, they are handcuffed, shackled, searched, and restricted to small spaces with rigid routines and under constant surveillance, with severely limited access to the outside world,” the form letter on the website claims.
“For many detainees, not knowing how long they will be detained causes trauma, distress, and a sense of powerlessness. Detention can exacerbate existing psychosocial disabilities and frequently triggers new ones, including depression, anxiety, and post‐traumatic stress.”
CBSA Can Detain Those It Considers A Flight Risk, Dangerous Or Whose Identification Is In Question
The human rights advocates describe the immigration detention system in Canada in that letter as “abusive”.
Most detainees are held out of fear that they pose a flight risk or that their identification seems fishy to immigration officials. They can also be detained if they might be a danger to the Canadian public.
Julie Chamagne, executive director of the Halifax Refugee Clinic, agrees the practice of housing detainees in provincial jails must stop.
“It’s really not set up for immigration detainees. It’s deeply traumatic and triggering to people, especially for those who have already suffered persecution, which may also have taken the form of detention and torture in their countries of origin,” Champagne told the CBC.
In July, British Columbia announced it would no longer hold detainees in provincial jails as soon as it can extricate itself from its deal with the CBSA, an agreement that requires 12 months of notice to cancel.
“The province is ending its arrangement with the CBSA,” said Mike Farnworth, British Columbia’s minister of public safety and solicitor general, back in July. “BC Corrections will provide the CBSA with 12 months’ written notice as required under the current arrangement.
“BC Corrections is committed to working with the CBSA to develop a safe and efficient transition plan that achieves our common commitment to public safety while ensuring the rights of individuals are preserved and protected.”
One Detainee Claimed Experience Made Him Feel Like A Dog
The immigration detainee system in Canada is unworthy of the country’s values, said human rights activists.
“Canada’s abusive immigration detention system is in stark contrast to the rich diversity and the values of equality and justice that Canada is known for globally,” said Ketty Nivyabandi, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, in June last year.
“Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch call on the Canadian authorities to end the inhumane treatment of people in the immigration and refugee protection system by gradually ending immigration detention in Canada.”
In a report, I Didn’t Feel Like a Human in There: Immigration Detention in Canada and Its Impact on Mental Health, the human rights activists quote one detainee who claimed being held in detention made him feel like a dog.
“I was just waiting and praying, trying to convince myself that it’s not that bad,” the former detainee identified only as Joseph is reported to have said.
“I was thinking, ‘They can’t just leave me in here.’ I didn’t feel like a human in there; I felt like a dog. The guards would just open the latch to feed me.”
Human rights activists also claimed detainees could be held for years with no set release date in provincial jails with the regular jail population and were often subjected to solitary confinement.
In the wake of those allegations, British Columbia looked into its treatment of detainees under the IRPA.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged Another $26.9m For Refugees In The Americas
“In the fall of 2021, I committed to a review of BC Corrections’ arrangement with the CBSA on holding immigration detainees in provincial correctional centres,” said Farnworth.
“This review examined all aspects of the arrangement, including its effect on public safety and whether it aligns with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and expectations set by Canadian courts.
“As part of the review, BC Corrections engaged with multiple external stakeholders and advocacy groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and incorporated their input.
“The review brought to light that aspects of the arrangement do not align with our government’s commitment to upholding human rights standards or our dedication to pursuing social justice and equity for everyone.”
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.”