The Star: About 200 inmates have been relocated to the Lindsay correctional centre, a move critics say isolate them from help and support.
GTA immigration detainees recently transferred to a jail in Lindsay, Ont., held a protest and staged a hunger strike this week over what they describe as unfair treatment.
About 200 inmates being held in Greater Toronto have been relocated to the Central East Correctional Centre since August because of a coming closure of the Toronto West Detention Centre, a move critics say isolates the detainees and keeps them from receiving help and support.
The detainees staged the protest at 11 a.m. Tuesday, according to a memo from the Lindsay facility’s administration to the Canada Border Service Agency. Negotiators were brought in and the inmates returned to their cells at 10 p.m.
Some have been on a hunger strike since Wednesday morning, the Star has learned.
“Basically, they were upset they had no access to anything, their family, legal counsel or any recreational program,” said a source who was informed about the situation.
The detainees, deemed a flight risk while awaiting deportation, have complained about not being able to make phone calls to lawyers and families, frequent lockdowns due to short staff, and disregard of their dietary needs.
“We have had a hard time communicating with our clients,” said Toronto immigration lawyer Guidy Mamann, who has had about two dozen clients transferred to Lindsay.
“More than 45 per cent of the immigration (files) are in Greater Toronto, and Lindsay is two hours from the city. The whole thing just makes no sense. It is a crazy situation.”
The border service agency did not respond to the Star’s request for comment.
The Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services confirmed that 191 immigration detainees have been moved to the Lindsay facility, and described Tuesday’s action as “a peaceful protest.”
“A pod at the facility recently underwent renovations and is now complete … it made sense logistically to use the newly renovated pod to house the immigration holds,” ministry spokesperson Greg Flood explained in an email.
However, the move has caused havoc for families, said a Toronto woman whose 28-year-old son was transferred there Aug. 10 from Toronto West, on Disco Rd.
“It takes me an hour and 48 minutes one way to travel to Lindsay to see my son. It costs me so much money in gas. And when I get there, I only get to see him for 10 minutes,” said the woman, who asked not to be identified for fear of repercussions to her son.
“Before, when my son was in Toronto, he could call me on collect for $1 per call. Now, I’m charged by the minute to talk to him. They have made it so expensive and difficult. They are forcing the inmates into isolation from the outside world.”
The inmates’ relocation has also presented hurdles for lawyers who want to prepare them for legal proceedings, said Mario Bellissimo, chair of the Canadian Bar Association’s immigration section.
Immigration detainees are entitled to a monthly detention review and video-conferencing is not an ideal substitute for an in-person hearing with lawyers present, he said.
“It is just highly inconvenient … causing more delays and increasing legal costs. This is not good for anyone in the system,” said Bellissimo, who hopes officials can keep Toronto West open till the new Mimico facility is ready to operate. However, officials maintained that families and lawyers continue to have access to inmates.
Flood confirmed a meeting is scheduled Friday between ministry and border officials about the event, but would not disclose the agenda.