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Toronto, ON (March 8, 2016) – Human rights organizations across the country reacted today to news that an individual has died while in the custody of the Canadian Border Services Agency. The individual died in the Toronto East Detention Centre. The individual’s identity has not been released.
“Nobody should die while they are in the custody of CBSA” said Mitch Goldberg, President of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers. “The public needs answers. What was the cause of death? Could this death have been prevented? Did some action or inaction on the part of CBSA and the correctional facility that they use to house their detainees contribute to their deaths?”
“It is a shameful fact that since 2000, at least 13 people have died in the custody of CBSA and its predecessor agency,” said Samer Muscati, director the University of Toronto Faculty of Law’s International Human Rights Program (IHRP). “This latest death is a further stain on CBSA’s reputation and highlights the urgent need for reform of the way immigration detention is practiced in this country.”
“Holding immigration detainees in provincial jails is deeply problematic,” said Loly Rico, President of the Canadian Council for Refugees. “CBSA must bear responsibility for the health and well-being of detainees, yet they have no direct supervision when detainees are in provincial jails.”
“This death shows, yet again, why independent oversight of Canada’s border police is so urgently required,” said Laura Track, a lawyer with the BC Civil Liberties Association. “Parliament has given CBSA broad powers of arrest and detention, yet it remains alone among major Canadian law enforcement agencies in having no independent oversight. This raises serious public concerns about accountability. When deaths happen in custody, we need independent, civilian-led investigations if the public is to have any confidence in the results. This reform is long overdue. It should not take another death in custody for government to implement independent oversight of Canada’s border police. They should do it now.”
This was echoed by Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International, Canada: “It is time for something to be done about the glaring oversight gap when it comes to immigration detention in Canada. It is unconscionable that immigration detainees can die in custody and there is no independent agency with a mandate to step in and ensure human rights obligations have been met.”
In June 2015, the IHRP released a report titled “We Have No Rights: Arbitrary imprisonment and cruel treatment of migrants with mental issues in Canada”, which found that nearly one-third of all non-citizens, or migrants, who are detained are placed in facilities intended for a criminal population, sometimes for years. This violates international human rights law; constitutes arbitrary detention and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; discriminates on the basis of disability; and violates both the right to health and the right to an effective remedy.