Over 50 immigration detainees began to refuse food this morning at the maximum security Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, and the Toronto East Detention Centre in Scarborough calling for an end to indefinite detentions in maximum security prisons and protesting prison conditions that include lock-downs and solitary confinement. The immigration detainees are asking for a meeting with Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to discuss their concerns.
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“We would like immigration detention to end and something more fair or realistic be worked out. We would like to meet with MPs. To me, the way immigration detention is right now, it’s cruel and unusual punishment,” said Toby Clark, who has been in immigration detention since August 2014. “If your country refuses to issue travel documents, some people are held months, some people are held years and there is nothing that they can do about their country not issuing travel documents.It’s sad that people are separated from their family in Canada for so long, they don’t get a second chance.”
Canada is one of the only countries in the world that does not have a limit on length of detentions. As a result, immigrants are imprisoned for indefinite lengths of time, without a charge, a trial or a release date.
“Immigration detainees are often on long lockdowns during the summer months, sometimes kept in their small shared cells for days in a row, unable to speak with their families, or get legal support,” explains Sharmeen Khan of Detentions Watchdog, End Immigration Detention Network. “The Liberal government came into power promising to do the right thing, these detainees have been organizing since September 2013 but no elected officials have met with them. Minister Goodale must meet with the detainees, and commit to upholding international norms and basic human rights by ending immigration detention. Many of these detainees are already sick, this hunger strike could put them in grave danger.”
Most recently, immigration detainees went on a hunger strike beginning April 21, 2016. Officials from Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) met with them, but have not followed through on the promises they made. Immigration detainees have now re-initiated their hunger strike, and are calling for a meeting with elected officials.
“The Ontario and Canadian Human Rights Commission, lawyers and doctors, even the United Nations have all insisted that detentions should be the last resort, for the shortest time possible, and not in maximum-security jails. Why is Canada being a rogue nation, jailing people where they are dying?” added Khan.
One-third of all immigration detainees in Canada are held in Ontario provincial prisons, which are designed and operated for people facing criminal charges or serving criminal sentences. Immigration detainees are held here even though immigration is a federal administrative matter and immigration detainees are not serving sentences. Of the 15 known deaths in Canada Border Services Agency’s (CBSA) care, at least 8 were being held in Ontario provincial prisons. Two of these people, Francisco Romero Astorga and Melkioro Gahungu, died in the same week in March of this year.