United Nations body issues damning opinion against Canadian immigration detention

Download backgrounder with key sections of the UN opinion here.

Toronto – The Canadian immigration detention system is under fire again, this time by the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions.
‘…[D]etention shall be the last resort and permissible only for the shortest period of time and that alternatives to detention should be sought wherever possible’ reiterates the Opinion which criticizes Canadian laws and policies that have resulted in Mr Michael Mvogo’s detention on immigration grounds for nearly eight years. Over 85,000 people have been detained in immigration hold under the current government making it the norm, rather than the policy of last resort.

This is the first opinion issued by the Working Group in a case involving Canada since 1994 which is when records are available for. The opinion also calls for Mr Michael Mvogo’s release and insists that he be compensated.

Members of the End Immigration Detention Network who will deliver the Opinion to immigration enforcement offices this morning hailed the UN opinion as further evidence that the Canadian immigration detention system is in need of an overhaul. They point to the fact that Mr Mvogo’s case was considered under Category IV of the Working Group’s mandate which deals with immigration detention in the absence of judicial review or remedy.

“The UN is basically saying that the detention review and judicial review processes that Canada uses to justify all immigration detention do not pass muster,” says Syed Hussan, a campaigner with No One Is Illegal – Toronto and the End Immigration Detention Network.

“This UN opinion is another nail in the coffin on any claim to integrity in the immigration detention system. Immigration detention is unjust jail without trial or charge – it must end.”
The Working Group ruled that Mr Mvogo’s detention is neither ‘necessary or proportionate’ even if there were difficulties in confirming Mr Mvogo’s identity, or there is lack of cooperation from his country of origin, and even if the Federal Government’s position that Mr Mvogo is responsible for some of these difficulties is accepted.

“Immigrants are regularly held in prison pending deportation while authorities attempt to verify their identity or gather travel documents from countries of origin,” says Mr Macdonald Scott from Carranza Barristers and Solicitors, Legal Counsel for Mr Mvogo. “This United Nations ruling adds to a growing chorus of voices that insists that those are not sufficient grounds for detentions. They should simply not take place.”

Mr Scott continues, “Canada should pay heed to this ruling, release Mr Mvogo and compensate him, as well as release any immigrants detained for more than 90 days. That should be followed by a thorough overhaul of the detention review process and an end to maximum security incarceration of migrants”.

“Immigrants are on strike inside a prison, government documents show possible signs of political interference in detention reviews, the UN is saying Canada is being a rogue nation. When will Harper and Steven Blaney explain what’s going on with immigration detention?,” adds Hussan.
Over 85,000 people have been detained in immigration jails in Canada under the current government, over a third of them in maximum security provincial jails according to government documents. Though the average length of stay in detention in 2013 was 28 days, nearly a 100 individuals have been held for over a year, and in one case, a man identified as anti-apartheid icon Mbuyisa Makhubu has been jailed for a decade.


  • The UN has called for Immigration Detention to be the policy of last resort but in Canada over 85,000 people have been detained by the current Federal government. Immigration detention is unjust and immoral imprisonment without trial or charge. Now the UN is saying its also against international legal norms.
  • The UN has reiterated that detention must be for the shortest time period possible — Canada on the other hand is one of the only Western countries that does not have a time limit on immigration detention resulting in people being detained for up to 10 years. Immigrant detainees and their allies are calling for a 90 day limit on immigration detention.
  • The UN has issued this Opinion because it found that migrant detainees in Canada do not have access to real judicial review processes. This confirms what government documents have revealed about political interference in detention reviews, and what immigrants and their allies know — the current judicial oversight of immigration detention is a farce. Detainees must seek permission to go to Federal Court to challenge their detentions, which usually gets denied. Even if they get permission, case-law or previous decisions mean that detentions is rarely overturned. The End Immigration Detention Network is calling for an overhaul of the Detention and Judicial Review processes.
  • The UN insists immigration enforcement’s inability to establish someone’s identity, or to obtain travel documents from countries of origin are not grounds to detain people. The UN goes a step further – even if those difficulties arise from non-cooperation of the detainee — there are still not enough grounds to keep someone in jail. These are the two of the most common reasons, immigrants are held in detention. Those people must be released. No one should be held in maximum security prison.

Contact: Syed Hussan, 416 453 3632, No One Is Illegal – Toronto and End Immigration Detention Network


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