Toronto – Two months from the date that Minister Goodale promised changes to the immigration detention system, 17 immigrants jailed without charges and trial at the Central East Correctional Centre have refused food again. The immigration detainees are calling for an end to indefinite detention, with a 90 day limit on detentions, as an initial step to ending detentions. The hunger strike started Monday, October 17.
One of the men on strike is Kashif Ali, who has been in immigration detention for a total of 12 years. He says, “I swear every night I sleep three or four hours, I don’t know if I will be released or put on a plane. They are making me go crazy, I can’t sleep, I am depressed, I have stomach problems. People like me, I am not fighting them, but we can’t be deported, we should be released, given ID and papers and the support to work. This is why I am going hungry.”
Ali, 50 year old, is a Ghanian asylum seeker has been in Canada since December 1986. He has a 26 year old daughter in Newmarket and a common law partner. He was put in immigration jail in 1994, and deported to Ghana on fake Canadian travel documents in 1996. As a result of being deported on forgeries, he was jailed in Ghana for 10 months. He was then returned to Canada, where he was placed in immigration hold until 1999, when he was abruptly released without ID, work permit or social assistance. Ali struggled to make ends meet, and was rearrested in 2009, and has been in indefinite immigration since.
“We have been on hunger strike twice this year, most recently for 19 days, at the end of which we were promised real change. The Minister went on the record and said that immigration detention is broken, but he did not specify long-term and indefinite detention which impacts many of us, separating us from our families and making us sick. Consultations were promised, and yet, have not taken place directly with detainees, while we are the primary stakeholders. We want an end to indefinite detention, we don’t want to be locked up in maximum security prisons, we want real access to effective legal remedies to contest our detention,” stated one of the strike organizers, on behalf of the 17.
Immigration detainees at the Central East Correctional Centre went on hunger strike for 19 days ending on Canada Day this year. In response the federal government announced a $138 million plan to build more prisons in BC and Quebec, and initiating consultations.
“With the federal government refusing to name the key issues of indefinite detention, maximum security imprisonment and deaths in detention, or speaking directly with imprisoned detainees, these men are forced to starve themselves again to protest their concerns,” says Macdonald Scott of No One Is Illegal – Toronto and Carranza LLC. “We call on Minister Ralph Goodale yet again to implement a 90 day limit on detentions in accordance with international laws as a first step to ending immigration detention.”
Key facts about immigration detention & violations
- Since 2000, at least 15 immigrants have died in CBSA custody, 3 in just the last six months. At least 8 of the deaths took place in Ontario provincial prisons. Most common cause of death is denial of adequate health care followed by suicide. CBSA has never publicly revealed details of all the deaths in its custody.
- Over 7300 migrants were detained without charges or trial in 2013. Approximately, one-third of all detention happens in maximum security provincial facilities rented out by provincial governments to Canada Border Services Agency. 60% of all detentions take place in Ontario. In 2013, migrant detainees spent a whopping total of 183,928 days (that’s over 503 years) in immigration detention. Detentions cost over a quarter of a billion dollarsover five years.
- CBSA regularly imprisons children. At the same time, it does not report on imprisonment of children with Canadian citizen insisting that they are ‘accompanying’ their parents.
- Canada is one of the few western countries in the world without a time limit on detentions, thus some immigrants have been jailed for over 12 years without charges or trial. The United Nations has twice asked Canada to end this practice. 146 doctors, nurses and social workersand 109 lawyers called on Ontario to end theprovince’s deal with Ottawa that allows the jailing of immigration detainees in provincial prisons in June 2016.
- There is absolutely no system to determine under what circumstances some detainees are held in one of three federal immigration holding centres (Toronto, Laval and Vancouver) and the rest in provincial jails.
- The decision to detain or release is made by civil servants, who are not legally trained, known as Board Members. Board Members release rates vary arbitrarily between 5% and 38%. Release rates also vary by region, 9% in Ontario, and 26.5% in the rest of Canada. There is no comprehensive judicial oversight of these decisions. An immigration detainee does not have an automatic right of appeal.
- If convicted for a crime, immigrants unlike citizens are punished three times. First, for the crime itself. Second, by having their immigration status revoked or if it’s in process, denied, and pushed into deportation. Third, by being jailed, in some cases indefinitely.
- The purpose of detention is stated to be ‘flight risk’ or ‘danger to the public’. There exist no criteria to make this designation, and no appeals process or access to courts to challenge it. Immigration detention is limited to undocumented residents – who may be denied refugee claimants, migrants who overstayed their work, study or visit permits or former permanent residents who had their status revoked. Contrary to popular perception, 94.2 percent of refugees are detained on grounds other than being an alleged security threat.