Detention of asylum seekers in Canada : Current situation
• In over 95% of cases, asylum seekers are detained because of concerns about their identity documents or a possible failure to appear for immigration proceedings. Less than 5% of detained asylum seekers are even suspected of criminality, security risk or danger to the public
• Asylum seekers are detained either in Immigration Holding Centres or in high- security provincial jails
• Immigration Holding Centres are run as medium-security prisons, with razor-wire fences, security guards, and surveillance cameras everywhere. Men and women are held in separate wings, with a special section for children detained with their mothers. There are regular searches with metal detectors, and sometimes body searches. Personal effects are confiscated on arrival. Wake-up times, meal times and all other activities are regulated by rigid rules. Suicidal detainees are either placed under 24/7 individual surveillance, usually in solitary confinement, or transferred to a provincial prison.
• Detention is for an indeterminate period, until immigration authorities have completed identity checks or other verifications. In 2009-2010, the average detention time was 28 days. Detention review hearings must be conducted by the Immigration and Refugee Board within 48 hours after arrest, then after 7 days, and then every 30 days.
• All asylum seekers except pregnant women and minors are handcuffed, and sometimes shackled, during transportation, notably when in need of specialized medical care at a hospital. Detained asylum seekers may be chained during medical procedures. For example, one study participant was chained to the dentist’s chair during surgery for an abscessed tooth. If hospitalized, detainees are almost always chained to their beds as well as being under guard. Many asylum seekers forego medical treatment rather than enduring the shame of being seen in public handcuffed like a criminal.
• Over the last five years, 650 children (on average) have been detained every year in Canada for immigration reasons, according to official statistics. The real figure is far higher. Many children are not counted in these statistics because they are not personally detained, but rather “accompanying” a detained parent. Children may also be taken away from detained parents and placed in foster care.
The situation under Bill C-4
• Asylum seekers designated under Bill C-4 will be automatically incarcerated in high-security prisons (either in Immigration Holding Centres or in provincial jails) for a minimum of 12 months without any access to release. Even children, pregnant women, trauma survivors, persons who are suicidal, and persons who are mentally or physically ill, will have no right to apply for release.
• Under Bill C-4, children must be detained, just like adults. They will either be imprisoned with their mother, if she is in an Immigration Holding Centre, or separated from both parents and placed in a youth custody centre if the parents are incarcerated in a provincial prison. In all cases children will be separated from their fathers. • Asylum seekers will remain detained until final resolution of their refugee claim, which currently takes two years. Although the government hopes to accelerate the process, bureaucratic delays are inherent to processing refugee claims, especially for large groups. If refugee status is denied, judicial review proceedings will likely last for years.
• The Minister of Public Safety’s discretionary power to release designated asylum seekers in “exceptional circumstances” does not afford adequate protection. In Australia, which also imposes mandatory imprisonment on asylum seekers, similar discretionary powers are rarely exercised, even in cases involving repeated self-harm and suicide attempts by children.
• If their refugee claim is judged to be well-founded, designated persons will nonetheless be deprived of the right to permanent residency and to family reunification for five years.
• All these sanctions will be imposed on people who are not even suspected of criminality or representing a threat. Any group of two or more refugee claimants may be designated as an “irregular arrival”, simply because the government suspects that they may have obtained travel documents from smugglers or that normal processing might be too time-consuming.