Kawartha Lakes This Week: Central East Correctional Centre was designed as a provincial detention facility, not for federal detainees
Protestors gathered outside the Central East Correctional Centre (CECC) in Lindsay on Tuesday to protest the detainment of about 191 federal migrants being held inside the jail.
Last month, GTA immigration detainees in the facility staged a hunger strike over what they describe as unfair treatment, according to a memo from the CECC’s administration to the Canda Border Service Agency.
The detainees, deemed a flight risk while awaiting deportation, have complained about not being able to make phone calls to lawyers and families, frequent lock downs due to short staff, and disregard of their dietary needs.
They were relocated to Lindsay due to the upcoming closure of the Toronto West Detention Centre.
Several supporters staged a peaceful protest outside the facility in support of the detainees, speaking out against prison conditions and indefinite detention. Similar actions, according to protesters, took place across Ontario.
The detainees and their supporters are calling for an end to maximum security detention in provincial jails for migrants; a limit of 90 days that migrants can be held in detention pending deportation as per international law. They are also calling for full access to legal aid for detention reviews; and an overhaul of the adjudication appointment process for detention review.
In addition, the strikers are calling for access to medical care, decent food, social workers, legal services, and international calls and an end to constant lockdowns.
Spokesperson Ayendri Perera said the issue is “not about citizen rights, it’s about human rights.”
“Some of these [detainees] have been incarcerated for five to seven years,” she said, adding they are “federal prisoners put into a provincial facility.”
They don’t have the access to services they would in the federal system, she noted.
Ms Perera said the prisoners are often under lockdown for 18 hours a day; a major complaint is the long detentions while awaiting hearings. She admitted that some of the prisoners have been convicted of criminal offences and others have been deemed a flight risk while awaiting deportation. None are Canadian citizens.
The problem, the protesters say, is that the migrants are locked up because Canada cannot deport them to home countries that will not take them back, but refuses to release them. Ms Perara said holding them indefinitely, far from family and friends and without proper access to legal services is a violation of human rights. Family and lawyers must now travel from Toronto to see them.
“This is basic human rights,” she said, adding the federal and provincial governments are “passing the buck…because they don’t want to deal with it. It is the responsibility of both governments to work together.”
When the detainees staged a hunger strike last month, local OPSEU 368 union president and corrections officer Clark Moss said, “We’re bound by our policies while they’re in our care and control, but it doesn’t necessarily suit the needs of the federal detainees.”
He noted that their anger is not directed at the provincial institution’s staff, but instead at the federal agencies who should be taking care of them.
“There are a lot of associated operational needs that we are trying to do our best with and I believe the detainees know that.”
He adds that while he doesn’t agree with his employer’s decision to agree to take on all the extra detainees – and the associated costs to the provincial taxpayers – he notes that, as provincial employees, his staff and the Ministry are doing as best they can to help and “containing a potentially volatile situation.”
On Tuesday, Mr. Moss reiterated those comments, adding that while most provincial correctional facilities can and do house federal detainees, they are not equipped to have almost 200. He said the inmates’ complaints have merit in that they have cultural differences, such as religious and dietary that “bring a whole new set of requirements” that the CECC was not, as a provincial detention centre, designed to handle.
Mr. Moss said staff and CECC administration were “doing their best” to deal with the situation, but added, “Our staffing model is set up as a provincial detention centre, not as a federal detainee camp.
And, when lockdowns go into effect, they apply to all inmates, not just the detainees, he noted.
He said the detainees had violated federal immigration laws and that it was up to Customs and Immigration Canada, along with Border Security to address the situation.
In the meantime, he said the hunger strike had “basically petered out” and that staff remain optimistic the federal government will send officials to remedy the situation.