Canada’s Immigration System Still Faces Criticism Over Human Rights Violations

Report Sent to the UN Calls for Changes to Canada’s Immigration Detention System

Although Canada is a global leader for welcoming immigrants and refugees, critics argue that the immigration system is in severe violation of human rights for migrants. The practice of indefinite immigration detention is the chief target for such criticism, of late.

According to an article from Metro News, a group of human and civil rights organizations has filed a submission to the UN Human Rights Council, criticizing Canada’s treatment of migrants, just in time for the UN’s review of Canada’s human rights record. Every four years, the UN Human Rights Council reviews Canada’s domestic human rights conditions and records. The next review is planned for early 2018.

Advocacy Group Pushes for Review of CBSA’s Handling of Detainees

This group of human rights advocates is pushing for an independent body to review how the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) handles immigration detainees. The report states that Canada continues to violate international law with its immigration system.

Canada must make changes to this detention system—and quickly. While Canada has a reputation for high human rights standards, the country still falls behind in its treatment of vulnerable populations.

Over the past year, the Canadian government has addressed some outstanding issues in the immigration system, but according to advocates, many issues persist and continue to violate human rights laws. For example, Canada still has no limit to the length of immigration detention. Furthermore, many detainees belong to vulnerable populations, such as children and those suffering from mental illness.

Proposed Federal Changes to Immigration Detention

In 2016, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said $138 million in funding would be used to improve alternatives to immigration detention and rebuild facilities. So far, improvements in the system include:

  • A decrease in the number of immigration detainees since 2015;
  • Restored health-care coverage for refugees; and,
  • Additional funding for improving mental and medical health services for detainees.

The advocate report deems the detention of children and those with mental illness unnecessary, especially since there are better care and housing alternatives. These vulnerable populations shouldn’t be incarcerated in prisons (meant for criminal inmates) while awaiting immigration decisions. Detention can lead to serious mental health issues for anyone but is especially harmful to children and those with pre-existing mental illnesses.

The uncertainty with indefinite detention also worsens stress for these people. Instead of trying to help those with mental illness by providing adequate care, the detention review hearings see mental health issues as a cause for continued detention.

Is An Independent Monitor Necessary?

Detention review hearings are typically held monthly, but the decisions are more often in favour of continued detention. Previous hearings tend to influence current decisions and are not necessarily scrutinized, making it more difficult for detainees to secure their release.

The CBSA claims to transfer immigration detainees from immigration detention centres to provincial jails in order for the detainees to receive improved mental health care. However, the advocate report claims that detainees rarely receive the help they need.

Canada’s criminal justice system has more in place to protect inmates’ human rights than immigration detainees. Conditions for immigration detainees held in provincial jails aren’t currently monitored. Independent monitors are often barred from these facilities, and their reports do not get published.

The advocate report recommends a 90-day immigration detention limit, and for Canada to appoint an ombudsperson or form an independent body to monitor and review the CBSA and complaints filed against the agency. Without changes, Canada cannot live up to its reputation for protecting the human rights of all persons in the country. Furthermore, it cannot maintain its leadership in the area of immigration.