Ontario finally allows Red Cross investigation of immigration jails, but deaths and indefinite imprisonment continue, says EIDN

END Immigration Detention Network (EIDN), Canada’s leading detention watch group, on Wednesday welcomed the decision to allow Red Cross access to Ontario’s provincial prisons for the first time since 2008. However, the lack of any real oversight of prison conditions of immigration detainees adds to the dire need to end maximum-security imprisonment of immigrants without trial or charges. A GlobalNews report today documented 11 deaths in immigration detention custody since 2000.

Since September 2013, over 100 migrants held in a maximum-security prison in Lindsay, ON have been on a protest strike against endless detentions, sham judicial review processes, and imprisonment in maximum-security jails. EIDN is coordinating the strike, and in June 2014 released an expose on immigration detention showing signs of political interference in detention release processes. In July 2014, the United Nations condemned Canadian immigration detention practices in response to an application EIDN filed.

“Endless, cruel and illegal imprisonment is part of Stephen Harper’s lock ’em up agenda, but why are provincial governments, particularly Ontario where most detainees are jailed, co-operating with this injustice? Wynne and other Premiers need to stop upholding Harpers’ anti-immigrant platform,” says Tings Chak, an organizer with EIDN.

Chak adds, “Minister Yasir Naqvi signed an agreement on October 20, but we don’t know when the probe will actually take place. The Red Cross must immediately be given access to all prisons, and their findings should be made public as soon as possible. The Red Cross report will show what we already know about the dismal conditions, maximum security restrictions, and lack of access to legal rights in provincial jails. We know that prisons should never be used to enforce immigration laws.”

Last year, 7,373 immigration detainees spent 183,928 days in prison, equivalent to about 504 years according to government data obtained by EIDN. In 2012, the year of the Red Cross report, of the 8,973 immigration detainees in Canada, 63% were in Ontario. A third of all detainees are held in provincial prisons, and designated immigration holding centres only exist in Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia.

“Immigration detention is a violent, brutal system that separates families, jails children and has drastic effects on mental health. As a result, Jan Szamko and Lucia Vega Jimenez have died in immigration detention and countless others are traumatized,” says Mina Ramos from EIDN. The Feds and Provinces are covering up this inhumane treatment by shutting out oversight.”

Ramos says: “Immigration detainees in Canada can be jailed indefinitely without trial or charge. The entire judicial review process that is meant to uphold the integrity of immigration detention is broken, a fact that has been confirmed by the UN. This system does not need tweaking in the form of GPS units or more minimum security jails, it needs a total transformation that prioritizes community support and immigration status regularization.”