Indefinite Immigration Detention: Canada’s Caveat on Real Change
A Real Change?
Ever since running and winning the 2015 election on a campaign promising “Real Change”, the Liberal Party has been playing a political switch-up of turtle and hare: real policy changes that understandably take time to form now seem to have only ever been rash wagers to get ahead in the public race.
One area where this hare-y truth has emerged is in immigration, and specifically in the recent swell of news coverage over the problem of indefinite immigration detention. In a pamphlet titled “A New Plan for Canadian Immigration and Economic Policy”, the Liberals have been quick to criticize Stephen Harper’s mismanagement of immigration policy as “troubling” and “heartbreaking”, declaring that “We need a new plan for our immigration system that is grounded in compassion and economic opportunity for all.”
Canada’s Ugly and Real Crisis in Immigration Detention
Despite the Liberals’ rhetoric, this past summer Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale refused to meet with over 50 immigration detainees on hunger strike who are asking for a 90-day limit to their detentions. Right now, over a dozen detainees in Lindsay, Ontario have begun another hunger strike demanding the same. An estimated 15 people have died in Canadian immigration detention since 2000, with some individuals having been confined for as long as 8 years.
Foreign nationals and permanent residents can be detained for a variety of reasons if they are considered a “danger to the public”, inadmissible into Canada for security risks, or likely to evade deportation. Detainees are held in both immigration centers and provincial prisons, where they are denied the same rights given to criminal inmates (such as adequate notice, the right to call a lawyer, disclosure of the facts of their case) and adequate treatment for mental health issues. A mandatory review period is set in place, but the host of problems that remain has triggered repeated outcry from the UN, immigration lawyers, and numerous NGOs.
Most recently, the stories of Alvin Brown and Francisco Javier Romero Astorga are among many that have caught the attention of the media public.
What Could Be Done
Goodale and Trudeau have done nothing to address this crisis except to pump an extra $138 million into upgrading immigration detention facilities across Canada – which at best is similar to pouring water into a broken well and at worst delays any real change that the system actually needs.
However, Professor Sharry Aiken at the Faculty of Law says that calling for a 90-day maximum detention period also misses the mark in realigning the immigration and refugee process with respect for human rights. The key is ensuring that conditions for release are not onerous and discriminatory towards the most vulnerable detainees – those who lack the funds for bail and are often unaware of their legal rights. Ministers should seek alternatives to imprisonment whenever possible, and limit the discretion that the state has when defining “public danger” and in its perception of foreign nationals.
The failure of the Liberal government to respond to any suggestions for reform is truly disappointing, especially when the truth has been coated with saccharine self-righteousness to try to make it easier to swallow. A year has been long enough to wait for change – and it has been past overdue for the detainees in detention centers and prisons to continue suffering in the Canadian justice system.
Lucy Sun (1L) is a Staff Writer for Juris Diction