B.C.’s Human Rights Commissioner: End ‘cruel and unjust’ incarceration of migrants

B.C.’S Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender says detaining migrants in jails for immigration issues is cruel, unjust and violates human rights commitments.

“People held under immigration law have committed no crime, and it is wrong that we treat them as if they have,” said Govender. “I am calling on the B.C. government to terminate their agreement with the federal government that allow for the detention of migrants in provincial jails.”

The Commissioner’s recommendations have been made in a submission to the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General.

According to Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA), 94 per cent of immigration detainees are held for administrative reasons and pose no risk to the public,  Yet, in the year prior to March 2020, almost nine thousand people, including 138 infants and children were forced into immigration detention in Canada, according to a recent Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International report.1

One former detainee who was quoted in the report stated, “I didn’t feel like a human in there; I felt like a dog. The guards would just open the latch to feed me.” In another troubling account, officials failed to provide a deaf man with batteries for his hearing aid. As a result, he spent most of his time in a B.C. jail unable to hear.

Since there is no legislative detention limit in Canada, migrants face the risk of indefinite detention, which violates international human rights law and can result in devastating impacts on the health and well-being of migrants. As the Commissioner’s submission notes, there is strong evidence that racialized people and those with disabilities experience harsher treatment and are detained for longer periods of time.

Considering the stressors surrounding the migration experience and the traumatic events that often cause migration, it is not surprising that some migrants show signs of trauma. Far from being met with adequate supports, migrants with mental health conditions are more likely to be detained in provincial jails and in segregation, where their condition tends to worsen. Mental health conditions become a barrier for release and are then used by the CBSA to justify continued detention.

In January 2022, the B.C. Government announced a review of the agreement with CBSA, which facilitates the use of provincial prisons for detaining migrants. A decision is expected in July.

“Through bold action, B.C. can lead the country by ending the detention of migrants in provincial jails and calling on the federal government to do away with immigration detention altogether,” said Govender. “This is an opportunity for B.C. to affirm the dignity and rights of migrants and fulfil our commitments to domestic and international human rights law.”



[1] Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, “I Didn’t Feel Like a Human in There: Immigration Detention in Canada and Its Impact on Mental Health”, 2021, https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/amr20/4195/2021/en/