THE STAR: Report alleges “political interference” in migrant detentions

Foreign nationals are more likely to remain in detention in Canada for immigration violations as their release rates continue to fall since 2008.

Victor Vinnetou has been in immigration detention for 10 years. The South African man is believed to be the missing apartheid icon, Mbuyisa Makhubu. He has been detained because officials cannot confirm his identity.

A groundbreaking study accuses Ottawa of “political interference” in the detention reviews of foreign nationals held for immigration violations, citing the decline of release rates under the Conservative government.

Based on government-provided data, the End Immigration Detention Network, an umbrella group advocating for migrants, found that detention adjudicators released 15 per cent of the migrants on immigration hold at their detention reviews in 2013.

However, in the Central Region that covers Ontario where most of the migrants are held, the release rate was less than 10 per cent, compared to 27 per cent in Western Region in B.C. and 24 per cent in Eastern Region in Quebec, said the report, released at a news conference Monday morning.

By examining the decisions of adjudicators, who are all federal government appointees, researchers also found the same decision makers who sat on the tribunal from 2008 through 2013 appeared to have become less likely to release immigration detainees.

In 2008, the average release rate of the same 13 members was 21 per cent, which fell to 11.5 per cent in 2012 and 9.3 per cent in 2013, according to the 40-page report, titled “Indefinite, Arbitrary and Unfair: The Truth about Immigration Detention in Canada.” “Seen together, this data shows that the immigration detention review process, the fundamental structure that upholds the integrity of the entire immigration detention process is unjust,” it said. “The detention review process that is supposed to guarantee the fairness of all detentions appears to be entirely at the whims of an appointed board member, with devastating consequences on migrants and their families.”

In 2013 alone, the report said between 7,373 and 9,932 migrants – often failed refugee claimants, undocumented migrants and people having had their permanent resident status stripped – spent a total of 183,928 days in immigration hold. Detained children ranged from 807 in 2008 to 205 in 2013.

There are more than 145 migrants who have been detained for more than six months.
Researchers said the consistent decline in the release rate “defies” belief that such a systemic reduction took place without a policy directive or a political decision. “Any policy or decision to systemically reduce release rates would be political interference in the detention review process, throwing the entire detention system’s fairness and integrity into doubt,” wrote the report, authored by Syed Hussan and Macdonald Scott with Toronto’s No One Is Illegal, a member of the End Immigration Detention Network.

Individual release rates by adjudicators varied during the studied period. Member Valerie Currie, for example, ruled on 443 detention reviews but only released 21 detainees (5 per cent). Maria-Louise Cote oversaw 303 reviews and released 100 detainees (33 per cent). The End Immigration Detention Network urges Ottawa to end what it calls “indefinite detention” by releasing all migrant detainees who have been held for longer than 90 days. In cases where the detainee cannot be deported within 90 days, it says, the person must be released while waiting for the removal.


Boycotting immigration detention in Canada


truthcaboutdetentionLynval Daley has been in immigration hold for three years while Canada attempts to deport him to Jamaica. As a refugee claimant who came from Nigeria more than nine years ago, Azuka Abagbodi was detained upon attending his monthly visit with immigration enforcement in August 2012. He’s since been deported.

“What am I doing in a maximum-security prison for 28 months,” said detainee Amin Mjasiri. “28 months of my life, you cannot give that back to me. Even if you were to deport me right now, you cannot give that back to me.”

All three currently are or have been detainees at the Central East Correctional Centre (CECC) in Lindsay, Ontario with other migrants. Pending deportation, they remain in immigration hold, separated from their families, unable to access legal counsel, and facing constant lockdowns. They’re deemed flight risks and detainedfor overstaying their visas or permits, or for having their permanent or refugee status revoked. Like failing to pay a parking permit or filing taxes on time, these migrants are only accused of an “administrative offense.” But unlike those other offenses, these are some of the only ones which lead to detention.

Today, a report entitled “Endless, Arbitrary and Unfair: The Truth about Immigration Detention in Canada” is being released by No One is Illegal — Toronto and the End Immigration Detention Network (EIDN), a coalition of migrant detainees, family members, and allies fighting immigration detention.

The report fleshes out the motivations for a month–long boycott begun last week today, on June 2nd, by over 100 migrants detained at the CECC, the Central North Correctional Centre in Penetanguishene, and Toronto’s West Detention Centre.

They’re boycotting the empty promises of their detention reviews, where migrants “appear before an appointed ‘member’ of the Immigration and Refugee Board’s Immigration Detention division within the first 48 hours, then seven days, and subsequently every 30 days after their detention begins,” according to the report. Over the years, the authors of the report note, a rapidly decreasing number of migrants are released upon attending these meetings.

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Using government documents obtained through Access to Information and Privacy Act requests, the report found that release rates also vary widely — between five and 38 per cent — for individual decision makers. Valerie Currie, for instance, ruled on 443 detention reviews but only released 21 migrants (a five per cent release rate), while Maria-Louise Cote oversaw 303 and released 100 migrants (a substantially higher release rate of 33 per cent).

The report details regional variations as well. The chances of a detainee being released in the central region (Ontario minus Ottawa and Kingston) is nine per cent, while the chances of release are 24 per cent in eastern Canada and 27 per cent in western Canada. In the five-year period 2009 – 2013, detainees were held for ten days in Pacific Canada but were jailed for 38 days in Northern Ontario.

Typically, such a dramatic change would be the product of a policy directive or a political decision, yet the researchers found no public account of such memos. “There’s suspiciously consistent reduction in release rates which point to signs of political interference,” says report writer and No One Is Illegal — Toronto member Syed Hussan in a phone interview with The Mainlander. “That means that the Harper government and Steven Blaney [The Minister of Public Safety] need to explain this reduction.”

Such an explanation is particularly pressing since Canada detains migrants indefinitely –using the detention review as a justification. While the United Nations recommends a “presumptive period” — which usually lasts between 90 and 180 days — many migrants in Canadian detention centres are held for months, years, and some for close to ten years. But since the detention reviews occur no longer than 30 days since the last, according to the report, “the Canadian government insists that immigrants are not held indefinitely but simply for a month at a time, with the opportunity to be released at every review.”

The detainees are currently boycotting this sleight of hand.

On September 16 of last year, 191 detainees at CECC similarly staged a hunger strike to confront indefinite detention. Facing solitary confinement lasting between 23 and 24 hours for striking, and prevented from showering for as long as a week, detainees persisted to the point that some, like Mjasiri, lost 42 pounds in the first 43 days of his 65-day strike.

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They agitated against a form of migrant treatment that is not only unnecessary, arbitrary, and indefinite but increasingly widespread. While there are three official immigration holding centres in Canada, last year 142 facilities throughout the country were used for this purpose — ith some being maximum security prisons.

The budget for immigration enforcement ballooned from $91 million to $198 in 2012-2013, while the immigration detention budget sits at over $45.7 million per year. In the same period, 9,571 migrants spent time in immigration hold. Hundreds of children per year are also being detained, though the number could be higher since children are not counted as detainees, but rather as “accompanying their parents”.

All these facts and experiences — the worsening outcomes for migrants at their detention reviews, the indefinite detentions, the deportations — are ultimately the culmination of a series of deliberate policies.

In 2010, using the Sri Lankan asylum seekers who reached the shores of British Columbia on the MV Sun Sea as a pretext, the Harper government introduced “anti-smuggling” legislation which enforced a mandatory 12-month detention period for “irregular arrivals.” The Public Safety Minister, Blaney, would have the power to designate migrants as irregular if he suspects, for instance, that processing their case would take too much time.

This measure was influenced, in part, by the passing in 2001 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) — legislation created in the context of the state’s post-9/11 anti–terrorism efforts. One provision of the Act is the “security certificate” which allows for non-citizens who are considered a threat to the country to be detained and deported. “I’ve been in immigration hold since May the thirtieth, 2012,” says a detainee currently boycotting the detention reviews. “I keep hearing the same argument…that I’m a danger to the public and I’m a flight risk.”

“Under this Kafkaesque law,” Harsha Walia writes in Undoing Border Imperialism, “detainees can be imprisoned indefinitely without any charges ever being laid against them and face possible deportation to torture.”

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As these legal changes accelerate, and as anti-migrant sentiment among Canadians sharpens, the reasons why all of this is happening is still open to debate.

Today’s report, however, takes note of the connection between the growth of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) and immigrant detention. “The legislated shift towards temporariness has been accompanied by an increase in immigration enforcement,” it explains. “As more people lose immigration status and become undocumented, immigration detention and deportation grows at an unprecedented rate.”

In turn, some researchers have unearthed the deeper motivations behind the shift away from granting permanent residence and towards temporariness. “Limits to (im)migration…lie in the ability of states not so much to restrict people’s mobility as to restrict their rights and freedom once they are within nationalized labour markets,” writes Nandita Sharma in “The ‘Difference’ that Borders Make: ‘Temporary Foreign Workers’ and the Social Organization of Unfreedom in Canada”:

Anti-immigrant discourse, far from excluding new (im)migrants from coming to Canada, has enabled national states to reorganize their nationalized labour markets in order to include a group of ‘temporary foreign workers’ who are made vulnerable to employers’ demands through their subordinated status as ‘temporary,’ as ‘foreigners,’ and as legally enforced unfree workers.

The same economic considerations which Sharma details are influencing the expansion of immigration detention, according to another researcher. “I think that part of the neoliberal containment state is the presentation of criminalization and incarceration as the alternative to working in a really exploitative low-wage job,” says Aiyanas Ormond, a community organizer for the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, in a phone interview with The Mainlander. “Either you accept the exploitative conditions, and the massive cuts to the social wage, or the alternative is criminalization and jail.” And that alternative is increasingly forced on migrants with the many changes to immigration over the years — changes which have, according to EIDN’s report, left 500,000 people undocumented in the country.

According to Ormond, the neoliberal containment state also functions to repress emerging, if only nascent, resistance efforts. “People who are coming to Canada from Mexico to paint condos are in many cases the same people who are fleeing areas devastated by Canadian mining companies and militarized by Canadian corporate aggression in Mexico or in the Philippines,” Ormond says. “I think that does present a serious threat to both the ideological justification of the neoliberal state and also materially in the sense of a potential organized force.” As a result, according to Ormond and other researchers, the Canadian state preemptively ramps up repression and criminalization of potentially organized and emboldened migrants.

But regardless of the potential explanations, the facts remain indisputable. Migrants accused of nothing more than an administrative offense are being detained indefinitely in facilities throughout the country. Rather than being able to stay in a country that many of them have lived in for years and sometimes decades, they are imprisoned. The detention review is a sham, with fewer and fewer people released over the years. And there’s almost surely political interference from legislators prepared to exploit migrants for gain.

Those detained today recognize the difficulty of their situation. Despite it, or maybe because of it, they boycott.

Read the full report here:


Toronto Star: Red flags over Canada’s approach to detaining migrants who pose a flight risk: Editorial

Questions are being raised about the fairness, transparency, and consistency of Canada’s approach to detaining migrants from abroad who pose a flight risk.

Report by advocacy group says tens thousands of migrants from abroad are locked up in Canadian holding centres every year.

Report by advocacy group says tens thousands of migrants from abroad are locked up in Canadian holding centres every year.

Does Canada’s immigration system need to lock up people, sometimes for years on end, not because they are suspected terrorists or criminals but because a federal official worries that they may not show up for some future hearing?

Last year alone thousands of migrants from abroad – as many as close to 10,000 – found themselves locked up in Canadian holding centres, and more than 145 have been detained for more than six months, a new study by the advocacy group End Immigration Detention Network has found.

By and large these aren’t violent people who pose a threat to society. As the Star’s Nicholas Keung reports, most are failed refugee claimants, people without documents and those who have had their resident status revoked.

They are held because an immigration official suspects they may go underground to avoid deportation; because their identity can’t be established; or on suspicion that they may pose a risk to the public. Most are locked up for a few weeks then deported. Some are released in the care of a guarantor. But some are held indefinitely.

A man who entered Canada in 2004 with bogus documents under the name of Victor Vinnetou is the poster boy for this issue. He has spent a decade in detention. Granted, it’s hard to sympathize with someone who refuses to disclose his true identity or nationality so that he can’t be deported. But even so, a decade in detention is a harsh price to pay for being obstructionist.

On that score Canada is clearly out of step with the U.S., Britain and much of the European Union. After three to six months they free detainees while they await removal. We have no limit.

This issue has led to hunger strikes in the Ontario prison system and boycotts of Immigration and Refugee Board detention reviews by detainees who say the system is stacked against them. Advocates want an end to “endless detention.” And they object that many are held in maximum security. They want the process overhauled.

It’s a growing human rights issue. And it affects a lot of people.
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The Star: Immigrant advocates plan Day of Action in four cities to demand accountable border enforcement

Friday’s protests come 2 months after a Mexican woman died in immigration detention. Advocates want civilian oversight and an end to indefinite jailing of migrants.

Michael Mvogo has been held in a Canadian jail for seven years and is among 600 immigration detainees in Canada. He cannot be deported because officials cannot confirm his identity.

Two months after a Mexican woman was found dead in immigration detention, advocates are staging a day of action across Canada to demand accountability and transparency in border enforcement.

Four protests have been planned in Montreal, Vancouver, London and Toronto, where migrant advocates will deliver 10,000 petitions to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) headquarters on Airport Rd. on Friday.

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The Star: Immigrant advocates plan Day of Action in four cities to demand accountable border enforcement

Friday’s protests come 2 months after a Mexican woman died in immigration detention. Advocates want civilian oversight and an end to indefinite jailing of migrants.

By: Nicholas Keung, Immigration reporter

Two months after a Mexican woman was found dead in immigration detention, advocates are staging a day of action across Canada to demand accountability and transparency in border enforcement.

Four protests have been planned in Montreal, Vancouver, London and Toronto, where migrant advocates will deliver 10,000 petitions to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) headquarters on Airport Rd. on Friday. The network of advocacy groups is calling for civilian oversight over immigration enforcement, an end to indefinite detention, release of immigration detainees from maximum-security prisons and an overhaul of the detainee release process.

The actions are planned just as the British Columbia Coroners Service announced this week it would hold an inquest into the death of Lucia Vega Jimenez. The 42-year-old was found hanging in a shower stall at a holding centre at Vancouver Airport on Dec. 20 and died in hospital a week later. She had been picked up on a transit fare violation and handed over to border officials for deportation. Continue reading

The Spec: Ex-Mohawk student fighting detention, deportation

By Teviah Moro

Muhammed Sillah has been locked up for nine months.

The former Mohawk College student has trouble understanding why.

Sillah, an undocumented migrant fighting deportation to his native Gambia, concedes he dropped out of school, worked under the table and stayed here illegally.

But he argues he isn’t facing criminal charges, doesn’t have a record and isn’t a flight risk.

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Arthur: Migrant strike at the Central East Correctional center in Lindsay

by Renzo Costa

Since mid-September, 191 migrant prisoners have been on strike at Ontario’s Central East Correctional Centre, a maximum security prison. They are not only demanding better treatment, but also the granting of a fairer immigration policy.

There has been much controversy surrounding the fact that these detainees are incarcerated in maximum security prisons, even though many of them have not actually committed a criminal offence.

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