British Columbia Will No Longer Hold Migrants In Provincial Jails: Will Other Provinces Do The Same?

by Ronalee Carey Law

July 2022

I formerly assisted a refugee claimant who arrived from an African country through a human smuggler. He made his refugee claim at the airport upon arrival in Canada, immediately admitting that the passport he carried was not his and that the photo of the passport holder had been replaced with his own. My client had no identity document in his own name; the smuggler told him only to carry the false documents he had been provided. He was fleeing for his life and had done what he was told.

My client spent the next ten days in the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre, a provincial jail notorious for its poor conditions. He was finally released after his cousin couriered his photo identification.

Arrivals to Canada can be detained, like my client, where they cannot establish their identity. Those to be deported may be detained if there are concerns that they are a flight risk. Individuals can also be detained if they are deemed a risk to public safety.

Canada has only three immigration detention centres. They are located in Toronto, Ontario, Laval, Quebec, and Surrey, British Colombia. Immigration detention centres are similar to minimum security prisons, and children are allowed to stay with their parents. In cities with no immigration detention centre, individuals are placed in provincial jails alongside the general inmate population.

Imagine fleeing for your life, arriving in Canada, being handcuffed, put in a prison jumpsuit and placed in jail even though you’d never committed a crime.

Sixteen people have lost their lives while detained since 2000. The horrible conditions for migrants in prisons have long had advocacy groups fighting for change.

Finally, one province is standing up for migrants. Citing human rights concerns, British Columbia has ended an arrangement with the Canada Border Service Agency to house detained migrants in its provincial jails.

We will now wait to see if other provinces will follow suit.