Groundbreaking report on immigration jail reveals troubling patterns, signs of political interference

immigration jailINDEFINITE, arbitrary and unfair: the truth about immigration detention, a new report released on, reveals that release rates in Ontario fell suspiciously from 21% in 2008 to 11.5% in 2012 and 9.3% in 2013.

“Harper and Steven Blaney have a lot of explaining to do. Why are fewer immigrants being released from jail each year?” asked report writer and No One Is Illegal – Toronto member Syed Hussan on Monday. “Was there a political decision, and if so who made it and why?”

Using government documents obtained through Access to Information and Privacy Act requests, the report by the End Immigration Detention Network also found that release rates vary widely between 5% and 38% for individual decision makers. For example, Valerie Currie ruled on 443 Detention Reviews but only released 21 migrants (5.0%) while Maria-Louise Cote oversaw 303 Detention Reviews and released 100 migrants (33%).

“Immigration detainees in three jails across Ontario are boycotting their detention reviews insisting that the reviews are stacked against them. Our report proves them right,” said report designer and No One Is Illegal – Toronto member Tings Chak. “Your chances of release should not be the luck of the draw. It shouldn’t just be up to individual decision makers, particularly not decision makers who seem to be under political influence.”

Researchers also found variations regionally. The chances of a detainee being released in the Central region (Ontario minus Ottawa and Kingston) is 9%, the chances of release are 24% in Eastern Canada and 27% in Western Canada. In the five year period 2009-2013, detainees were held for 10 days in Pacific Canada but were jailed for 38 days in Northern Ontario.

“Canada is a rogue nation that breaks from international norms and many Western countries in that it doesn’t have a limit on detentions pending deportation. This is justified through the existence of the detention review process,” said Macdonald Scott, an immigration consultant with Carranza LLP and one of the reviewers of the report. “This report shows that process is arbitrary, and that throws the fairness of the entire immigration detention regime into question.”

This report comes eight months after immigrants jailed in a maximum security prison in Lindsay Ontario began a protest against endless detentions and prison conditions. Detainees started a hunger strike, with two detainees staying on it for 65 days. In retaliation, immigration enforcement deported some key strike organizers, released a few, moved others into prisons across Ontario, and locked up hunger strikers in segregation. Yet, strike actions like the boycott that began on June 2 are continuing.

“The immigration detention system operates in the shadows. Few people know about it. Our report reveals the truth and it’s not pretty,” noted Hussan. “Migrants are being locked away for years, away from their families and friends, wasting away without an end in sight. We have to remember these detainees aren’t in jail for a crime; they are locked away because a Board Member believes they might not show up for future procedures. Is that enough of a reason to deprive someone of their liberty for up to a decade?”

THE report found:

* The rates of release between the 44 different members overseeing detention reviews in 2013 vary widely. For example, Valerie Currie ruled on 443 Detention Reviews but only released 21 migrants (5.0%); Marilou Funston ruled on 513 Detention Reviews but only released33 migrants (6%). On the other hand, Yves Dumolin oversaw 325 Detention Reviews and released 76 migrants (24%) and Maria-Louise Cote oversaw 303 Detention Reviews and released 100 migrants (33%).

* Members’ rates of release also vary regionally. The report found that in 2013, rates of release in Eastern and Western Canada19 were 24% and 27% respectively; the rate of release for Central Canada (Ontario except Ottawa and Kingston) was only 9%. In fact, the rate of release of every member in the Central region was below the national average of 15%. Eastern Region is responsible for Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, Nunavut, Ottawa and Kingston (Ontario); the Western Region is responsible for British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Northwest Territories and Yukon; Central Canada is responsible for Ontario (except Ottawa and Kingston).

* Looking deeper into the Central region, the report found that overall rates of release for Board Members in Central Region who worked in 2008, 2012 and 2013 (the three years we got data for) systematically fell each year. In 2008, the average release rate of the 13 members was 21.0%, which fell to 11.5% in 2012 and 9.3% in 2013. It defies belief that such a systematic reduction took place in absence of a policy directive or a political decision, said the researchers. They requested all such policy memos and received no documents that showed an actual policy change.

Any policy or decision to systematically reduce release rates would be political interference in the detention review process, throwing the entire detention system’s fairness and integrity into doubt.

* Their research also showed a massive difference between the average numbers of days immigrants were incarcerated across the country. In the five-year period 2009-2013, detainees were held for 10 days on average in Pacific Canada, and 12 days in Southern Ontario, but were held for an average of 32 days in the Prairies and 38 days in Northern Ontario.