By the end of March, the overall detainee population in Canada’s three dedicated immigration detention centres had declined significantly. However, like the United States, Canada also makes extensive use of its prison system to hold immigraiton detainees. The situation of those detainees was not clear as of this update. Globalnews.ca reported on 3 April that So far, no detainees are confirmed to have contracted COVID-19.”
In mid-March, immigration detainees at the Laval detention centre (near Montreal) launched a hunger strike to highlight their fears that conditions in the facility may lead to a “coronavirus disaster.” The hunger strike followed the signing of an open letter from detainees to the Public Safety Minister on 19 March demanding their release. They pointed to close quarters in which they are held, new detainees arriving without any medical checks, and frequent comings and goings of guards.
According to one report, “an employee at the Toronto centre tested positive for COVID-19 and has been in isolation since March 18.”
Human rights organisations also called on Canadian authorities to improve measures to protect ommigration detainees, many of whom are detained in the prison system. Amnesty International recommended scaling back to the absolute minimum necessary the numbers of people in immigration detention.
In Ontario, visits were suspended until further notice from 18 March 2020.
According to data obtained that Globalnews.ca received from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), “the total number of immigration detainees held in all three of Canada’s immigration holding centres dropped to 64 as of April 1 from 98 on March 25. … The Toronto immigration holding centre, which has 198 beds, had the biggest drop in detainees, dropping to 21 detainees on April 1 from 41 on March 25. The Laval centre, which has 109 beds, went from 48 detainees to 35. And the Surrey centre went from having nine to eight in that timespan. CBSA said that no minors were in the facilities on those dates.”
Concering these releases, an advocate from Action Refugies said, “Releases are picking up. And we were so relieved that after asking for a few weeks, finally some of the [detained] fathers who were separated from their families were released this week on an expedited basis,” Jeanes said in a phone interview. … If people are released, it’s either because whatever issues there were that were leading them to be detained are resolved. So that’s been the case for some people. Some people were released in the past days because their identity was confirmed, (and) they were able to get the information that the CBSA needed to confirm their identity.”
Some measures were implemented in prisons, though it is unclear to what extent they impacted immigration detainees.
- J. Loiero, “Suspending Prison Visits Over Covid-19 Sparks Fears of Inmate Backlash,” CBC News, 18 March 2020, https://www.cbc.ca/news/investigates/prison-visitation-suspended-covid19-1.5500803?cmp=rss
- Amnesty Canada, “Canada’s Covid-19 Response Needs Human Rights Oversight, Says Amnesty International,” 24 March 2020, https://www.amnesty.ca/news/canada%E2%80%99s-covid-19-response-needs-human-rights-oversight-says-amnesty-international
- Global Detention Project, “Immigration Detention in Canada,” https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/americas/canada
- J. Kestler-D’Amours, “Immigration Detainees Are on a Hunger Strike Over Coronavirus Fears,” Vice, 26 March 2020, https://www.vice.com/en_ca/article/939v7v/laval-quebec-immigration-detainees-are-on-a-hunger-strike-over-coronavirus-fears
- Globanew.ca, “The number of detainees held in Canada’s immigration holding centres is declining amid COVID-19 fears,” 3 April 2020, https://globalnews.ca/news/6774564/coronavirus-immigration-detainees/