Voices from Inside Detention: Anna*

*The detainee’s name has been changed to protect her identity.

From the IHRP report "We Have No Rights": Arbitrary Imprisonment and Cruel Treatment of Migrants with Mental Health Issues in Canada.

Anna is originally from the Eastern Europe, but lived in the United States for 15 years until she was deported. Her medical records show that she is diagnosed with schizophrenia, but during our interview, she denied that she has any mental health issues. She has been in immigration detention at Vanier since December 2014, on grounds that she is unlikely to appear for legal proceedings related to admissibility of removal from Canada. Anna does not have a criminal record. Toronto Bail Program has refused to supervise Anna’s release because she has been refusing to take her medication. 

Upon her arrival at the airport in Canada, Anna claimed refugee protection due to her fear of persecution in psychiatric facilities in her country of original. Immigration officials immediately detained Anna and brought her to the Toronto Immigration Holding Centre (IHC). She stayed at the IHC for two days before being transferred to Vanier.

During her first week at Vanier, Anna was kept in segregation before she was moved to the Intensive Management, Assessment and Treatment (IMAT) unit. The IHRP met her on the IMAT range in February 2015. Anna described her experience in segregation: “when I was in segregation, I was feeling pretty much without rights, like a person who is not treated like a human.” She recalled that during this time, she was only able to shower once every three days. “I was trying to write and read, but I could not concentrate, and I screamed in my cell and said, ‘why are you treating me like an animal?’ and they said, ‘you have to be quiet.’”

Anna reported that she was not taking medication to treat her schizophrenia, only a sleeping pill at night. She meets with a psychiatrist bi-weekly for about ten minutes per session. She also noted that every week she tries to visit a social worker, who sometimes helps her make phone calls. Her meetings with the social worker typically last around 15-20 minutes. Anna reported participating in group therapy at Vanier, which she found helpful: “During the group, your mood comes up and you have a little access to new people, new things.”

Anna expressed anguish at being kept at Vanier: “[J]ail for me is very hard, I am not a criminal, I am not here because of any sentence or any criminal problems like the other girls, and I am also in their faces looking like a strange alien, they look at me like ‘this girl, she doesn’t belong to jail.’" She expressed hope that she could move to a better facility where “it’s much more like freedom … where there is a possibility to go to classes during the day and you have also a better environment … you don’t have to stay in that jail twenty-four hours locked up, going crazy, saying ‘why [am I] here? …I’m not a criminal, why [am I] here?’”