UN condemns Canada’s arbitrary, indefinite detention of migrants

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Canada must act immediately to end rights violations against vulnerable non-citizens

(Toronto) - The UN Human Rights Committee, a body comprised of seventeen independent international law experts from around the world, has found that Canada’s treatment of immigration detainees is cruel and unusual, and results in arbitrary detention.

In its 7-page “concluding observations” on Canada released this morning, the Committee expresses grave concerns about indefinite detention for migrants, mandatory detention of those who enter Canada through “irregular” means, and recent cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program which severely restrict access to healthcare for non-citizens. The Committee also expresses concern over insufficient medical support for detainees with mental health conditions held in provincial jails.

The Committee calls on Canada to set a reasonable time limit on immigration detention, to ensure that immigration detention is used as a “last resort,” and to develop non-custodial alternatives to detention. The Committee also notes that migrants must have access essential health care services irrespective of their immigration status. Since 30% of immigration detainees are held in provincial jails, it is also significant that the Committee recommends that there be access to treatment centres for detainees with mental health issues. Finally, the Committee recommends that Canada establish effective, adequate, and well-resourced oversight mechanisms for our national security and intelligence agencies, including the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) which has the sole power to arrest and detain non-citizens on administrative grounds.

Reflecting the urgency of the situation, the Committee has asked Canada to provide information on the implementation of its recommendations related to immigration detention within one year.

The International Human Rights Program at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law (IHRP), represented by Executive Director Renu Mandhane, participated in the Committee’s review of Canada earlier this month. It was the first time the Committee reviewed Canada in nearly a decade. Mandhane raised the issue of Canada’s treatment of immigration detainees with the Geneva-based Committee, and highlighted the scope of detention (more than 7000 detainees per year), the indefinite nature (some detainees spend years in jail), the disproportionately negative impact on those with mental health issues, and the lack of effective oversight over the CBSA.

“My experiences in Geneva affirmed my impression that the Committee approaches the herculean task of reviewing 168 States parties with professionalism and rigour,” says Mandhane. “After reviewing thousands of pages of documentation, listening to hours of testimony from NGOs and the Canadian government, and grilling government representatives with insightful questions, the Committee’s report is fundamentally important pre-election reading for anyone wishing to chart the changes wrought to Canadian society in the last decade.”

The conclusions related to Canada’s treatment of non-citizens, such as Abdurahman Ibrahim Hassan, are an important vindication of the rights of migrants held in detention. Mr. Hassan, an immigration detainee with schizophrenia, died June 11, 2015, after being held in an Ontario jail for over three years without charge, while awaiting deportation to Somalia.

Says Mandhane: “The UN’s strong recommendations will quickly become cold comfort for Mr. Hassan’s family if Canada does nothing to implement them. Despite the death of at least 11 immigration detainees held in CBSA custody since 2000, Canada has done nothing to end arbitrary detention and cruel treatment of non-citizens held without charge. Now that the UN has made recommendations to end rights violations against immigration detainees, we must press all the major political parties will commit to implementation if elected in October.”

Lawyer Barb Jackman, who is currently challenging the indefinite detention of migrants in the Ontario courts, stated: “These strong recommendations from the UN will be helpful in terms of establishing breaches of the Canadian Charter that arise from the long-term, indefinite detention of non-citizens.” Ms. Jackman’s case was recently heard by the Ontario Court of Appeal, which is expected to release its decision in the Fall.


Read the Human Rights Committee’s Concluding Observations and recommendations for Canada.

 Read the IHRP’s report on immigration detention, We Have No Rights: Arbitrary Imprisonment and Cruel Treatment of Migrants with Mental Health Issues in Canada



Available for comment:

Renu J. Mandhane (Ms.), B.A., J.D., LL.M.

Executive Director, International Human Rights Program

University of Toronto, Faculty of Law

Tel: 416.946.8730 

Email: renu.mandhane@utoronto.ca


Sample tweets:

UN #HRCtee finds Canada violates rights of detained migrants, recommends CBSA oversight, time lmt on detention #Canadaexposed #ihrpmigrantrights

UN #HRCtee concerned abt immigration detention in Cda; calls for time lmts & non-jail alt’ves #CDApoli #Canadaexposed #ihrpmigrantrights