Media Release: Ontario Court asks Border Enforcement to explain Indefinite Detention



Media Contact: Syed Hussan, 416-453-3632

Ontario Court asks Border Enforcement to explain Indefinite Detention

Toronto, August 30, 2016 — The Ontario Superior Court is set to hear a historic case today, when it will call on Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the Department of Justice to justify the imprisonment of Alvin Brown, detained since September 2011. This is an almost unheard of occurrence where a provincial court is stepping in on a federal immigration detention matter.

Detainees, advocates and even the United Nations in 2014 have insisted that there is no fair judicial oversight of immigration detention in the federal system. The Ontario Court’s decision to hear this case justified this position. The End Immigration Detention Network, which is supporting Mr Brown, is insisting on a fundamental overhaul of federal immigration detention including overhaul of the judicial oversight process, a 90 day limit on detentions, and end to maximum security imprisonment as initial steps to ending immigration detention.

IMAG1739“Mr Brown is in indefinite detention without any possibility of release as a result of lack of policies limiting detention in Canada,” said Mr Macdonald Scott, Counsel for Mr Alvin Brown at a press conference Tuesday morning. “He has no option but to turn to provincial courts to end his incarceration, but not all detainees can avail this path which shows the need for immediate legislative reform.”

Mr Alvin Brown, forty, has lived in Canada since the age of eight. He was a permanent resident, but is now subject to a removal order to Jamaica. That removal order, however, cannot be executed. Notwithstanding this fact, he has been detained “for removal” for nearly five years, since September 2011.

“Mr Brown is stuck in a system that he can’t get out of, he can’t be deported, no laws compels his release and as a result he is getting sick, can Minister Goodale guarantee that Mr Brown will not die next?” said Syed Hussan, spokesperson for the End Immigration Detention Network. “While we hope that the Ontario courts release Mr Brown who has spent most of his life in Canada today, we are also calling on the Ontario government to refuse to do CBSA’s dirty work, and stop detaining migrants, and on the Federal government to bring in new laws that end unjust immigration detention.”

15 people have died in immigration detention since 2000, three in just the last six months. Canada is one of the few countries in the world without a limit on detentions, and a third of all immigration detainees are imprisoned in maximum security provincial jails primarily in Ontario.

In July, immigration detainees across Ontario went on hunger strike in support of their demands and requesting a meeting with Ralph Goodale, Federal Minister for Public Safety. Detainees have continually asked for a clear commitment from political representatives to bring Canada in line with international best practices and end indefinite maximum security detention. Over 17,000 people have signed a petition in support.

“Mr Brown is being punished three times, first he was sentenced for a crime, then his permanent residency was revoked, and lastly he has been imprisoned for nearly five years without charges or trial or end in sight,” added Hussan on the steps of the Ontario Superior Court. “Every part of the immigration detention system is broken, and must be transformed, we don’t need more prisons, we need new laws.”

Two weeks ago, Minister Ralph Goodale announced a prison build program as part of overhaul of Canadian immigration detention, but did not deal with the fundamental issues of indefinite detention in maximum security prisons without judicial oversight.

Key facts about immigration detention & violations

  • Since 2000, at least 15 immigrants have died in CBSA custody, 3 in just the last six months. At least 8 of the deaths took place in Ontario provincial prisons. Most common cause of death is denial of adequate health care followed by suicide. CBSA has never publicly revealed details of all the deaths in its custody.
  • Over 7300 migrants were detained without charges or trial in 2013. Approximately, one-third of all detention happens in maximum security provincial facilities rented out by provincial governments to Canada Border Services Agency. 60% of all detentions take place in Ontario. In 2013, migrant detainees spent a whopping total of 183,928 days (that’s over 503 years) in immigration detention. Detentions cost over a quarter of a billion dollars over five years.
  • CBSA regularly imprisons children. At the same time, it does not report on imprisonment of children with Canadian citizen insisting that they are ‘accompanying’ their parents.
  • Canada is one of the few western countries in the world without a time limit on detentions, thus some immigrants have been jailed for over 12 years without charges or trial. The United Nations has twice asked Canada to end this practice. 146 doctors, nurses and social workers and 109 lawyers called on Ontario to end the province’s deal with Ottawa that allows the jailing of immigration detainees in provincial prisons in June 2016.
  • There is absolutely no system to determine under what circumstances some detainees are held in one of three federal immigration holding centres (Toronto, Laval and Vancouver) and the rest in provincial jails.
  • The decision to detain or release is made by civil servants, who are not legally trained, known as Board Members. Board Members release rates vary arbitrarily between 5% and 38%. Release rates also vary by region, 9% in Ontario, and 26.5% in the rest of Canada. There is no comprehensive judicial oversight of these decisions. An immigration detainee does not have an automatic right of appeal.
  • If convicted for a crime, immigrants unlike citizens are punished three times. First, for the crime itself. Second, by having their immigration status revoked or if it’s in process, denied, and pushed into deportation. Third, by being jailed, in some cases indefinitely.
  • The purpose of detention is stated to be ‘flight risk’ or ‘danger to the public’. There exist no criteria to make this designation, and no appeals process or access to courts to challenge it. Immigration detention is limited to undocumented residents – who may be denied refugee claimants, migrants who overstayed their work, study or visit permits or former permanent residents who had their status revoked. Contrary to popular perception, 94.2 percent of refugees are detained on grounds other than being an alleged security threat.

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