by Matthew Brett
Migrant prisoners in Canada have been beaten back into their cells, imprisoned for “preventive” reasons, reallocated to prevent political organising, and lied to by prison authorities in an ongoing and historic migrant prisoner strike.
Activists are calling on people to take part in a national day of action this December 14 to end Canada’s practice of indefinite detention.
“This is a national issue, so we need actions across the country. We need people to be pressuring across the country,” said End Immigrant Detention organiser, Hussan.
Migrant detainees will go on a 24 hour fast during the action, and End Immigrant Detention is encouraging people to join on a 24 hour solidarity fast.
Detainees and supporters are demanding an end to maximum security lockups and indefinite detentions. Canada must comply with the European Union, the United States and international norms by implementing a 90-day limit on detentions, Hussan said.
What you can do:
- Fast & photograph: Take a photograph of yourself if you are fasting in solidarity with those inside and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Get on the bus! In Ontario? Get on the bus and join the rally against indefinite immigrant detention. Toronto bus pickup at 11 a.m. Facebook event pageHERE. Details HERE.
- Call, email & tweet: Support the Lindsay Immigration Detainee strikers by pressuring the Corrections Minister, Public Safety Minister, Immigration Enforcement officials and jail superintendents. Details HERE.
Interview by activist and writer Matthew Brett with No One is Illegal and End Immigration Detention organiser, Hussan. Fascinating partial transcript below:
What you need to know:
- Canada still practices indefinite detention in violation of international norms: migrant prisoners are not deported or released, but subjected to countless detention reviews that are denied for months and years on end.Background on immigration detention in Canada HERE.
- Migrants in a maximum security prison in Lindsay Ontario began their hunger strike on September 17, 2013. This is a historic prisoner strike with widespread implications. Learn more about the strike [HERE]
- Like the ‘Migrant strike’ Facebook page;
- Follow No One Is Illegal on twitter: @nooneisillegal;
- Request to join ‘No One Is Illegal Toronto’ on Facebook;
- Website: End Immigrant Detention.
Ending Canada’s Shameful Practice of Indefinite Detention
This fascinating interview touches upon Canada’s ongoing practice of indefinate detention, Canada’s historic migrant prisoner strike, and how authorities are trying to silence it. Hussan is an organiser with No One is Illegal and End Immigrant Detention. Activist and writer Matthew Brett spoke with Hussan during the Solidarity City conference in Montréal, Québec, on October 1. The beautiful Solidarity City campaign aims to provide access to services (health care, schooling, food banks, housing, etc) for all non-status migrants. Learn more HERE.
MATT: I’d like to start just by asking what’s happening with the prisoners, what they’re doing and why. If you could start just by giving us some basic details about what’s happening.
On Sept. 17 we received a call from inside the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ontario, where about 191 detainees had refused to enter their cells, that the riot guard had to be called in, and that they had to be beaten back into their cells.
So when we found this out we immediately started connecting – because a number of our organisers either work in prisons or counsel people in detention centres – we started compiling what the prisoners’ demands were.
The following day on the 18th, the detainees held a 24 hour hunger strike. And at this point their demands were entirely about prison conditions, so what had happened was they had been moved from prisons across Ontario into Lindsay.
They were not getting the same food as the rest of the prison. They were not allowed international phone calls, which they’d been allowed in all the other prisons. Their access to legal counsel and their families had severely deteriorated. They were on 21 to 23 hour lockdown. And the guards were doing work-to-rule, so because of that their conditions were really bad.
We started connecting with them. We started putting out petitions and getting a sense of who was who – trying to figure out who was in all of the ranges.
[Range: prisons are divided into units, and each unit is divided into 5 or 6 ranges depending on the prison, Hassan says. A range has 16 cells, and each cell is supposed to hold two prisoners, so about 32 people per range.]
Then on September 23 all of the detainees began again what they called at that point an unlimited hunger strike and compiled their demands. But what we started hearing again was that prison conditions wasn’t enough, but that many of them were on indefinite detention, which is that they could not be deported but could also not be released. Others were complaining that they were in maximum security jails rather than the so-called minimum security holding centres, and that some of these people had gone in front of 30, 40, 50 detention reviews – these are monthly reviews – so that’s years on end, and had been denied over and over again. So they have spent tens of thousands of dollars – basically their entire life-savings – on lawyers and had gotten nothing out of it. So it became about indefinite detention, it became about adjudication processes and it became about maximum security lockups.
The detainees are in there for a number of reasons. Some of them are pending deportation and have been deemed high-security. We’ve done Access to Information requests across the country, including in Ontario, and we know that only in British Colombia is there an actual system that people can be put into maximum security jails. Everywhere else, it’s an ad-hoc, arbitrary, administrative decision by immigration officers.
Primarily, what happens is it’s either criminality in Canada, prior criminality, or being rude during your arrest. It’s an administrative decision. Prior criminality in other countries is a huge concern. Some five years ago, one of our friends and comrades is actually from Nicaragua. He had been put in jail in Nicaragua for being gay, which at that time was illegal. When he came to Canada, he got his refugee status and then it was revoked because of that prior criminality in Nicaragua, which is the grounds for his refugee status, he was jailed in the country. So it’s quite a topsy-turvy, on-its-head, ridiculous process.
Finally, it’s about criminality. Many of these people – about half of them – have served criminal sentences in Canada, but those criminal sentences are over. So most recently, actually the first public statement that Immigration enforcement has made, is that they’re saying these are not punitive detentions. They are preventative detentions. Now, at what point in Canadian immigration law was punitive detention created? There’s actually no grounds for it. So preventing them from what, and to what end?
So our demands right now are that there should be an end to the lockups of people in maximum security prison, and secondly from there, that there should be an end to indefinite detention. So we’re saying that Canada needs to establish a 90 day limit, and anyone who’s locked up for more than that should be released immediately.
Obviously this isn’t exactly what we want. We want an end to all detentions and deportations. But looking at the fact that the entire European Union and the United States all have a limit – what’s called a presumptive period – within 90 days to six months depending on the country, you have to release them.
So the fact that Canada doesn’t have it – it’s contradictory to the United Nations recommendations and it’s contrary to the Charter. So there’s legal grounds and there’s enough public outcry around these issues to win this as a first step.
We’re doing a number of things. On the detainee front, since September 23, many people have gotten off of hunger strike [and] as of this week (Nov. 23), everyone’s off. A lot of them were moved into other jails. Others were expedited for deportation.
On the other hand, six of the detainees who were on hunger strike for over two weeks were all released. And so there has been this mixed bag. Some who have been on hunger strike were able to win, and others they rushed off. They also started moving prison organisers from all the ranges to other prisons in Ontario, so they’re being separated. We were working with somebody in the Toronto Immigration Holding Centre (TIHC) – this is the big detention centre in Toronto – it’s about 130 people, and the strike organiser there was moved to Lindsay, who is someone who has a stay on his deportation, but he has been on detention for over six months.
[A stay on deportation means that the Federal government has said that until his spousal sponsorship form comes back with a decision, he cannot be deported. Hassan says this person has a pretty solid spousal sponsorship. He has three kids here in Canada.]
They are keeping him in detention basically until he gets permanent residency. He’s a very public political organiser in Gambia and now in Canada. He’s been writing blogs and articles about the work that he’s doing in the TIHC. So this is the sort of thing that we’re finding.
People are worried, people are upset. […] It’s a really mixed bag and it’s very hard to maintain communication.
We’re in the process of trying to establish range committees, so getting ranges to self-organise and get a sense of who’s who and what they’re doing.
So as of September 23, of the people who went on strike, we think that about 30 per cent of them are already out. It’s a huge turnover in the last 2-and-a-half months. So our focus is on legal challenges. We’re trying to do a joint-case around the constitutionality of this with a group of detainees. We’ve been told that there’s no legal way to group these cases. We have to take them one-upon-another and see what happens.
We’ve filed at the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights for the working group on arbitrary detention. […] We always knew that we were gonna go to the UN because the federal court has refused to hear cases on the constitutionality of these detentions. […]
And then, of course, there’s everything that’s going on, on the outside. This is a national issue, so we need actions across the country. We need people to be pressuring across the country.