British Columbia ends immigration detention agreement with federal border agency
A Human Rights Watch lawyer says he hopes British Columbia’s decision to end its immigration detention agreement with the Canada Border Services Agency will create a “domino effect” across the country.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth on Thursday announced British Columbia’s decision to end its agreement with the agency to hold immigration detainees in provincial correctional facilities, saying the arrangement does not inconsistent with the province’s position on human rights.
The move came after calls from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International asking British Columbia to end its contract with the federal government.
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Samer Muscati, associate director of disability rights at Human Rights Watch, called the decision a “historic step”.
“I hope this will end some of the abuses we see and prevent people from being detained in the worst possible conditions, at least in British Columbia. We hope this creates a domino effect where other provinces take the lead from British Columbia to do the same,” Muscati said in an interview Thursday.
“I hope this is also a wake-up call for the federal government to realize that the current immigration detention system is unsustainable and that they really need to consider a paradigm shift in how he proceeds.”
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Farnworth said the province conducted a review that analyzed its contract with the agency, including public safety, and consulted with advocacy groups.
“The review has brought to light that some aspects of the arrangement do not align with our government’s commitment to upholding human rights standards or our commitment to pursuing social justice and equity. for everyone,” he said.
The CBSA said it could not respond to questions in time.
The report says the number of immigrant detainees in provincial custody is declining, but provincial jails are being used to hold “high-risk inmates.”
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He also said that while the CBSA compensates BC Corrections for holding detainees, it does not cover the full cost.
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“This is a trend that is expected to continue given the overall reduction in the number of inmates in provincial facilities. If the arrangement ends, these are resources that could be used to support BC Corrections clients, including those in custody with complex needs and behaviors,” he said.
Calls for reform began in June 2021 when Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International published a report stating that immigrants without criminal charges against them are being held in detention centers, federal prisons or provincial prisons for an “indefinite period “. They launched a campaign calling on British Columbia to terminate its contract last October, then expanded their campaign to Quebec and Nova Scotia.
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“Canada is one of the few countries in the North that has no legal limit on the length of immigration detention, which means people can be detained for months or years with no end in sight. “, the groups said in a joint press release after Thursday’s announcement. “British Columbia’s decision is an important step on the road to ending immigration detention in provincial jails in Canada.
Sara Lopez, an immigrant who was detained for three months at the Alouette Correctional Center for Women in Maple Ridge after seeking asylum in 2012, called the decision a relief.
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She said she never understood why the CBSA incarcerates people who are “simply fleeing violence”.
“I’m crossing my fingers that it happens in every province in this country,” she said in an interview on Thursday.
Ketty Nivyabandi, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, said in the statement that she congratulated British Columbia for being the first province to make the decision, calling it a “momentous step”.
“This is a real human rights victory, a victory that upholds the dignity and rights of people who come to Canada seeking safety or a better life,” she said.
British Columbia Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender has joined groups in their call to end the practice across the country, saying CBSA data shows that 94% of detainees Immigration are detained for administrative reasons and pose no risk to the public.
“Holding innocent migrants in prisons is cruel, unjust and violates human rights commitments. The CBSA can still hold migrants in a detention center, but this is an important first step towards asserting the human rights of detainees,” she said in a press release on Thursday. “Now it is up to the federal government to abolish all immigration detention and expand the use of community alternatives that support individuals.”
Farnworth said BC Corrections will provide the CBSA with 12 months notice of termination, as required by its current contract. The review noted that the CBSA may need time to “plan and implement additional facilities or alternatives that are safe and secure so as not to compromise public safety in British Columbia or endanger those in their care – staff, contractors and inmates – in any way. »
Human rights groups said BC Corrections told them the province would give the agency formal written notice to terminate the contract next week.
“We hope this is a step towards abolishing immigration detention rather than finding other ways to detain people through detention centers or through other types of measures. punitive,” Muscati said. “There is a real opportunity here to do something different.”
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