Voices from Inside Detention: Noosha*

*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

Noosha fled a repressive regime in the Middle East and came to Canada in 2007. Although Noosha has never been convicted of a criminal offence, she was held in the maximum-security wing at Vanier Institution for Women in Milton, Ontario (“Vanier”) for two months, and released on October 31, 2014. The IHRP met Noosha in Toronto four months after her release from jail.

Prior to her detention, Noosha was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety, and was taking various medications to manage her mental health: “Without [those pills] I’m not normal,” she told IHRP researchers.

In September 2014, Noosha got into an altercation with her abusive ex-partner. After he called the police, she was arrested and taken to the police station where she was met by Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers. When she tried to explain her situation to the CBSA officers, they told her that they were not interested in hearing her story and that she should go back to her country. Noosha recalled the CBSA officer being very “tired and sleepy,” with his eyes half closed.

Noosha was then taken to Vanier, and granted criminal bail after one week; however, she remained detained in Vanier on immigration hold for nearly two months afterwards due to a clerical error. Due to an error at the courthouse, her release papers were never sent to the CBSA, who continued to detain her on immigration hold. However, since CBSA did not yet have her registered in their system, she also did not have any of the mandated detention reviews. The error was not caught in October 2014, and she was released ten days later.

Noosha met with a nurse within her first week at Vanier, though only for a few minutes. The nurse refused to provide the same anti-depressant medication that Noosha had been taking prior to being detained because she could not obtain proof of the prescription from her family doctor. Noosha explained that she was seriously affected by suddenly being cut off from the anti-depressants: “you can’t stop my medication right away… I’m going crazy,” she recalled.

Noosha reported that when she met with the nurse for a second time, again for only a few minutes, the nurse minimized her mental health condition, saying to her, “I understand that you are totally depressed, but this is jail life.” Noosha was eventually provided with anti-anxiety medication and sleeping pills because she was not sleeping or eating, and her “face [and] eyes [were] totally yellow.” Noosha was under the impression that there were no psychiatrists at Vanier, and she only reported meeting with a nurse.

Noosha’s depression soon became so severe that she considered committing suicide. “My heart was squeezing so much, I was crying so much, but people told me ‘if you tell the guard you’re going to try and kill yourself they will put in the punishment room, it’s the coldest room, for three to four days,’ and I thought, ‘I don’t want to go there.’” She never told the guards or nurses about her suicidal ideation, but she did confide in the social worker, who encouraged her to “stay strong.”

Noosha spoke positively about the social workers at Vanier, who helped her contact her family and a lawyer. With the help of her lawyer, CBSA discovered that there was a clerical error in her file, which eventually led to her release. She found out that she would be leaving Vanier on the morning of her release. CBSA picked her up and brought her to the Toronto Immigration Holding Centre, where she had to sign a conditional release form. She was released to the supervision of a bondsperson, with whom Noosha currently lives. Additionally, Noosha must report bi-weekly to CBSA in Mississauga. It takes her two hours to get there.

Noosha explained that the “terrible thing” about her case was that she “didn’t know how long [she] was going to stay [at Vanier].” She contrasted this to those detained through the criminal justice system at Vanier, who knew their release dates: “Some of the girls were so happy, putting make up on…maybe they had some good feeling because [they] knew when they were going to get out… For me, it was totally different… I didn’t know how long I was going to stay.” She recalled that, “it was stressful; … anxiety gets worse when you [have] stress.”

While at Vanier, Noosha shared a room a woman serving a criminal sentence. “Immigration [authorities] should have something better than jail for those people only on immigration hold,” Noosha told us. “They just put [detainees and criminals] together and this is terrible.”

When she first met with her lawyer and explained her case, Noosha said she could not stop crying, because the way she had been treated was “really hurtful.” She explained that her mental health “was getting better” before she was detained, but after spending only two months in detention, Noosha felt that her mental health was set back to when she was first diagnosed with depression two years ago.

In recalling her ordeal, Noosha lamented: “Nobody cares, you know, even the government…nobody cares because I am an immigrant here.”