Voices from Inside Detention: Uday*

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

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

Uday has been aware of his schizophrenia since he was 20 years old, and has had seizures since the age of five. Now in his thirties, Uday has been taking medication to manage his mental health well before arriving in Canada. He has no previous criminal convictions, but was held in a provincial jail for almost three years because Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) was unable to confirm his identity or country of origin. CBSA has since acknowledged an impasse with respect to obtaining proof of his identity and nationality. As a result, Uday is de facto stateless.

Uday arrived in Canada in November 2011 from the Middle East via Europe. At the airport, officials stopped Uday before he had collected his suitcase, which contained his medication, and brought him to a holding room where he was questioned without an interpreter present. He repeatedly asked the officers to access his suitcase so that he could take his medication, but they refused. Having just gotten off a lengthy flight, and having no access to any food, water, or his medication, Uday became increasingly agitated. Despite Uday’s persistent requests for his medication, CBSA officials refused and insisted that he “needed to finish [his] interview.” “I freaked out,” Uday recalled.

He had a suspected seizure and was taken to the hospital. After he was released, he was taken to the Toronto Immigration Holding Centre (IHC) because he did not have proper documents to confirm his identity.

On November 23, 2011, Uday was taken from the IHC to the Greater Toronto Enforcement Centre (GTEC) for an interview with CBSA. He made his claim for asylum protection at this interview. At that interview, he became frustrated, slammed a phone, knocked over a computer, and was restrained. He was taken to a hospital again, and when released he was brought to Metro West Detention Centre because of his “violent outburst.” “I broke the phone and computer and then [they] put me in jail,” recalled Uday. He was imprisoned at Metro West for 21 months, and was eventually transferred to Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ontario (CECC) for a further 11 months. He furthered his English language skills on his own while in jail.

He was detained in prison for nearly three years initially on grounds of unconfirmed identity and later on the related ground that he was unlikely to appear for removal.

Upon arrival at Metro West, Uday had a medical intake interview, where his medical history was recorded, and he continued to take medication there. Uday met with the psychiatrist weekly for five minutes, solely for the purpose of increasing or decreasing the dosage of his medication. He was also prescribed sleeping pills.

At Metro West, Uday was held with the general criminal population, which he described as being “very scary,” because “people are crazy – they use drugs and come down from drugs and are totally confused, they don’t know what is going on.” People fought every day, although Uday himself avoided fights. He said there were no activities, no programs, “nothing” to do. However, he thought that the staff treated him better at Metro West than at CECC, because at Metro West he was “with the criminals who have rights.”

After Uday was transferred to CECC, he felt that he “had no rights at all.” “They treat[ed] us like garbage,” he stated. He put in many requests to see a doctor, but his requests were only answered once every three to six weeks, and the appointments lasted about ten minutes. In addition, unlike at Metro West, Uday’s appointments with the doctor were conducted by video link. After making persistent complaints, Uday began to speak to a psychiatrist in person on a weekly basis.

For the first 20 months of his detention, Uday did not have a lawyer. Once his detention became lengthy, Legal Aid Ontario agreed to fund his counsel for his detention reviews.

Uday had a Designated Representative appointed for his detention reviews. When asked to comment on the DR, Uday responded plainly, “I hate this guy. … He never gave a shit…. One time he asked for an early detention review…but he never came. I waited for him. He never came.” When the DR did attend the detention reviews, it was Uday’s perception that “he was not helpful” and…“never sorted it out.” Uday considered the DR to be an employee of CBSA who would do whatever CBSA told him to do.

Uday was held in immigration detention for 12 months before there was any contemplation of his release. Initially, Toronto Bail Program (TBP) refused to provide supervision for his release because, as a result of the 2012 cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP), he would not be able to get access to medication outside of detention.  Subsequently, the TBP also refused to supervise Uday because of concerns that he was not complying with his medication. Uday acknowledged that there were periods of time when he did not take his medication, because it made him feel like a “zombie.” However, after this became an impediment to release, Uday began taking his medication regularly.

“The fact that I have schizophrenia made it more difficult for me to get out of detention,” reported Uday. His counsel also noted that “[h]is mental health condition played a large role in his inability to confirm his identity, and also posed a large barrier to securing his release due to concerns about his access to treatment.” His lawyer indicated that Uday “consistently provided background information about himself to CBSA that turned out to be false or unverifiable. CBSA claimed that he was wilfully misleading them and frustrating their investigation into his identity… he is mentally ill and that has to account, at least in part, for his inability to confirm aspects of his personal history and identity. A proper appreciation of his particular illness would not include the unreasonable expectation that he provide reliable and consistent historical information.”

“Eventually the CBSA conceded that they could not confirm his identity, meaning that he is effectively stateless,” Uday’s counsel explained. “After that concession, [TBP] eventually accepted him as a client – after many more months spent arranging health care upon release … he was eventually released.”

The uncertainty of release from detention was a major source of stress for Uday during the nearly three years he spent in jail: “I went crazy – I felt like I was in hell. They never tell you when you are going to get out, [it is] always negative news, [they] never tell you positive news, you never know when you are going to get out.” He recounted that he was told that he would be released five times before it actually happened, and eventually, he avoided getting his hopes up about release. When Uday was finally released, he “couldn’t believe it.”

Uday finds it much easier to deal with his mental illness now that he is out of detention “because there isn’t as much uncertainty.” However, he still lives in fear of being taken back to CECC. He told us about a recent incident where he jaywalked, and a police officer stopped him to tell him to be more careful. His first thought was that he would be sent back to jail. “I am scared of Lindsay,” he noted; “I am always walking on eggshells.”

When we mentioned to Uday that the IHRP had visited some immigration detainees who were still at CECC, he said, “I feel for the other people. I think, ‘what are they doing? Holy fuck, what are they doing? Are they still there?’”