Detentions watchdog says new government framework doesn’t go far enough, detainees being ignored

LAST week, the federal government released a report outlining its plans to ‘reform’ immigration detention and launched an online portal for the public to give feedback on the proposals. The End Immigration Detention Network (EIDN), a detentions watchdog and detainee support group which has been working directly with detainees for four years, says the government is using double speak to obfuscate their internationally-criticized record of indefinite detention.

“Detainees have consistently told us and told the minister than they don’t need better prison conditions, they need freedom,” says Mina Ramos, an organizer with EIDN. “The government continues to refuse to end the practice of indefinite imprisonment, focusing instead on building new detention facilities.”

EIDN has consistently called for a limit on detentions to bring Canada in line with international norms. Last August, Federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale responded to a 19-day hunger strike by immigration detainees in Lindsay’s Central Correctional Centre, by allotting $138 million to expand immigration prisons in Canada, rather than create laws to end indefinite detention.

“The Liberal government likes to talk about stakeholders and consultations but has to date refused to deal directly with concerns of immigration detainees themselves,” says Mina Ramos, an organizer with EIDN. “Instead of ‘exploring potential policy changes,’ the government needs to take concrete action before another death occurs on its watch. We need a minimum 90-day release period.”

At least 15 people have died in Canadian immigration detention since 2000. The United Nations has repeatedly criticized Canada for refusing to introduce legislation that would place a 90-day limit on immigration detention.

The government has also launched a ‘National Immigration Detention Framework Questionnaire,’ which Martin, who spent three years in detention, calls mind-boggling.

“The government is asking Canadians for their feedback? You don’t need feedback to know that you shouldn’t detain someone indefinitely without charge or trial,” says Martin, who was detained in the maximum security Lindsay superjail for 36 months.

“I didn’t need three years languishing in a prison cell, cut off from my family, missing children’s birthdays, to know that. But that’s what I went through and what all those still detained continue to go though.”

Kimora Adetunji, whose husband Olukunle is currently detained at the Central East Correctional Centre, says the strain of not knowing when her three children will see their father again is taking its toll.

“In considering real changes to immigration detention, the government also needs to reckon with the impact on people’s families and communities,” says Adetunji. “Empty promises of reform are not enough and may be too late for Olukunle and I.”

Immigration Lawyer Karin Baqi says that without a commitment to introduce a limit on detentions, the alternatives to detention talk is insufficient.

“The government is investing $138 million to expand and renovate immigration detention facilities. This signals not an exit strategy but rather the status quo,” said Baqi, who is representing EIDN in a constitutional challenge of Canada’s detention practices, which will be heard at the Federal court next month.