What is #MigrantStrike and #EndIndefiniteDetention?

Over 191 undocumented migrants began a strike in Lindsay’s maximum security jail on September 17th, 2013. The detainees are protesting Harper and now Trudeau’s prison policy which jails them indefinitely and are calling for better better prison conditions. There are hundreds of other such migrants locked up in provincial jails across the country, as well as in women’s jails in Ontario.

Since then detainees have gone to the United Nations and won a ruling against Canada in Michael Mvogo’s cases, gone to the Ontario court and won the right to have a hearing in provincial courts proving that the federal immigration detention system does not meet even the most limited definition of justice, boycotted their detention reviews and gone on multiple one-day strikes. Most recently, detainees went on hunger strike on April 21st and were promised swift action by CBSA which has not come to fruition.

What do you mean they are undocumented?

They either overstayed their immigration visas (student, tourist, foreign worker, etc) or their immigration status (refugee status, permanent residency, etc) was revoked because they were found guilty of a crime. In other words, they have committed no crime, Canada has chosen not to give them immigration status.

Why are they in jail?

These migrants have no charges against them and no trial forthcoming. Harper and now Trudeau’s prison policy is tough on crime but soft on facts. Immigration enforcement argues that these migrants are in max security jail because they are going to be removed soon. Fact is, some of them have been in jail for up to 10 years because Canada cannot deport them but will not release them. Immigration enforcement has admitted they have no real criteria to make the decision where people are jailed (that is in maximum security or medium security), and make these decisions on a case by case arbitrary basis.

What do you mean Canada cannot deport them?

Many of these people are undeportable. Many countries like Cuba, Cameroon, Vietnam, Jamaica and others refuse to take citizens back who are facing deportation. They don’t issue so-called travel documents without which people cannot board a plane. Some of the other detainees’ lives will be at risk if they are deported back to their home country because they are refugees so they cannot be deported. Instead of releasing them, Canada just jails them indefinitely.

What do other countries do about such immigration detainees?

The United Nations recommends a “presumptive period”, a period of days within which migrants must be deported. If they are not deported by then, these migrants must be released. In the US and the UK, that period is 90 days but Canada doesn’t have a presumptive period. We are calling for more than a presumptive period, we are calling for a 90 day limit on detentions. If someone can’t be deported, they must be released.

Aren’t they criminals? Won’t it be a risk to release them?

Overstaying your immigration visa in Canada is not a criminal offence – it is an immigration violation. Immigration violations are administrative offences, similar to not paying your parking ticket. There are no criminal charges against many of these men. Those who were convicted of a crime have already served their jail sentences. Deporting people for a crime they have already served a sentence for is unfair double punishment enough. Keeping them in jail indefinitely after their jail term is over is simply unacceptable.

Who is paying for this?

You are. These migrants are federal detainees but are being held in provincial prisons. Harper is using taxpayer money to rent space from the provincial government for these jails. Its costs approximately $239/day to keep these men locked up in maximum security jail. For 191 detainees, that is $16.66 million dollars annually. In total, immigration detention costs taxpayers over $50 million.

What are prison conditions like?

Conditions in Lindsay jail are really bad. The food the men get is worse than the rest of the prison; they don’t have full access to healthcare, legal or family visits. Many of them are locked up in a small shared cell for 18 to 21 hours a day – only allowed out in to a slightly bigger cell for a few hours. They often don’t get fresh air for days. What’s worse is that those still on hunger strike have been locked up in segregation – so they are in their cells all the time and can’t get out. The detainees are not allowed international phone calls – even though many of them have family members abroad. They don’t have access to legal counsel, faith services, doctors or psychologists.

What do you think about the government’s plans for ‘alternative to detention’?

The only real alternative is being released in the community. Sanctioning electronic monitoring assumes that there is a rational and legitimate reason for someone to be under surveillance. Based on research in the criminal justice system, the John Howard Society has found, “There is considerable evidence that electronic monitoring has widened the corrections net by providing a more intrusive and expensive alternative, not to incarceration, but to regular probation and other community sanctions. Unfortunately, this outcome runs contrary to the original intent of those who conceived of, and developed, electronic monitoring programs – to reduce the number of inmates in correctional facilities.”

Similarly, in the realm of immigration detention, the process to jail immigrants is so unjust that invasive surveillance (which presumes guilt) simply cannot be justified. Since Canada is one of the only Western countries that has not limit on detentions pending deportation, electronic monitoring would mean that migrants could essentially be locked indefinitely into surveillance.

Who is responsible for this?

The Federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale is responsible. He could easily introduce regulations creating a presumptive period, and limiting immigration detention to 90 days. He could even immediately instruct counsel for immigration enforcement to not contest release of immigration detainees after 90 days of detention and he could stop renting space from provinces to jail migrants in maximum security prisons.

If you part of an organization, endorse the #MigrantStrike campaign – get in touch with us at migrantstrike@gmail.com

Here are other things you can do on your own: https://endimmigrationdetention.com/take-action/

Read Updates from the Campaign here, and check out our groundbreaking report on immigration detention.

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