by Cherise Seucharan (@CSeucharan) in Toronto

Detainment without trial. Denial of adequate medical care. Overcrowded and dangerous facilities. The Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) has recently been plagued with allegations of inhumane treatment towards people held in immigrant detention.

“Recently we have heard about a lot of scandals in immigrant enforcement and detention, including number of deaths in detention – 11 in the past 10 years,” says Tings Chak, an organizer with No One Is Illegal Toronto (NOII). She mentions that many migrants are held without being charged or having gone on trial. Investigations by Global News into the CBSA also revealed an overall lack of transparency around decisions to arrest, detain or deport migrants.

Anger and frustration at these issues culminated in a demonstration organized by No One Is Illegal, this past November at the Toronto Immigration Holding Centre in Rexdale. Various migrant rights groups across the GTA attended.

On a chilly afternoon, the protesters stood outside of the barbed-wire fence surrounding the building. They were holding drums, noisemakers, bullhorns and home-made instruments, in order to create a racket that would attract the building’s occupants: migrants being held in detainment by the CBSA. The demonstration was planned as a show of solidarity to the migrants inside, and to call for an end to the Canadian immigration detention system in which migrants can be held for many years.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Far too many migrants live and work in precarious and unjust conditions. Many are deprived of their liberty, rather than met with empathy and necessary protection.” - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon[/quote]

The demonstrators’ presence did not go unnoticed. As the group chanted, “No borders, no nations, stop the deportations,” detainees could be seen in the building’s uppermost windows, waving back fervently.

This protest was held just weeks before International Migrants Day on December 18, which was celebrated by more demonstrations in Toronto and around the world in support of migrant rights. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a message underscoring the troubling nature of migration. “Far too many migrants live and work in precarious and unjust conditions,” the message read. “Many are deprived of their liberty, rather than met with empathy and necessary protection.”

Ki-moon also called for states to implement the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, of which Canada is not a signatory. His message provided an opportunity to examine Canada’s own system and look closely at how it treats these vulnerable members of society – particularly those in detention – who are often undocumented workers or unsuccessful refugee claimants, some with children who are kept in holding with them.

Lack of transparency

According to a July 2014 report by the End Immigration Detention Network (EIDN), a migrant rights umbrella group, there were 7,373 migrants held in detention holding centres and prisons across Canada last year. Unlike other western nations, Canada has no limit to the amount of time a migrant can be held in detention. Instead, detainees meet with an immigration and refugee board member every 30 days to review their case. Yet many have consistently lost their claims and remain detained for extended periods of time. One of Canada’s longest held migrants, Michael Mvogo, also known as “The Man with No Name”, has been in detention for over seven years.

The EIDN report also revealed significant variations in the rate of migrant release throughout Canada. Release rates were at a low nine per cent in Central Canada, compared to 24 and 27 per cent in the Eastern and Western regions, which raises questions about the consistency of release decisions across the country. Release rate statistics have also shown a significant decline since 2008. However, there has been little explanation on these discrepancies. “It is very clear that there is pressure from above to decrease these release rates,” says Chak. “But we don’t know why that is.”

In an e-mail interview, CBSA senior media spokesperson, Esme Bailey explained that detention is only used as a “last resort” after considering alternatives, such as having migrants report to a CBSA office, limiting them to a certain geographic area, or implementing fees to ensure compliance.

“Canadian immigration laws do not permit arbitrary or indefinite detention,” Bailey wrote. Yet despite a number of “checks and balances” performed by the CBSA to ensure fair treatment of migrants, it is still unclear as to why this system does not place limits on the total length of detainment.

Unsafe detention conditions

The CBSA has also been criticized about its lack of transparency and oversight concerning the living conditions of detainees. The deaths that have been reported by Global News are largely attributed to inadequate health care or monitoring. The Red Cross has also discovered unsafe conditions such as overcrowding, traces of mould and poor mental health care in some facilities.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Individuals detained in a CBSA-administered immigration holding centre (IHC) have access to a range of health services, including evaluation, treatment and referral services.” - Esme Bailey, CBSA [/quote]

“Individuals detained in a CBSA-administered immigration holding centre (IHC) have access to a range of health services, including evaluation, treatment and referral services,” Bailey states in the e-mail. These services include access to a physician, nurse and psychologist, and 24-hour emergency care. While the CBSA claims to be improving its facilities, it is unclear what specific steps are being taken to address the above allegations.

Criminalization of migrants

Many of the rules surrounding CBSA arrests and detentions also remain ambiguous. According to the CBSA website, a person can be detained if officers have “reasonable grounds” to suspect them of being “unlikely to appear for an immigration proceeding,” if they are, “a danger to the public,” are “unable to satisfy the officer of their identity,” and finally, if they are deemed an “irregular arrival” by the government.

However, the legal justification behind many arrests has come under question by refugee advocates and lawyers, as investigations have found that many are detained without charge and with little legal support.

Earlier this year, the Ontario government declared it would no longer be allowing the CBSA to join road safety blitzes, during which CBSA officers were making arrests for immigration violations. The decision came after an August 2014 commercial vehicle blitz led to the arrest of 21 undocumented workers. It was reported that CBSA officers asked for identification from passengers, and only subjected visible minorities to questioning. 

Harald Bauder, academic director of the Ryerson Centre for Immigration and Settlement (RCIS), says that these types of arrests serve to criminalize the migrant population, putting its members in a challenging position when they come to Canada for work or school. “They are suggesting the person has done something criminal, but often the case is that the person did nothing, and the circumstance renders that person illegal.” He believes that describing migrants as “illegal” only furthers this idea. “I have suggested to subvert that term to “illegalized,” thereby emphasizing that there is a political process behind rendering people illegal.”

Canada’s international reputation

These reports of detention and arrest are indicative of a trend of closed borders and diminishing migrant and refugee rights in Canada, which has not gone unnoticed internationally. The UN has criticized the government’s handling of the migrant judicial process and overuse of detention. Furthermore, John Greyson and Dr. Tarek Loubani, two Canadians who were recently freed from imprisonment in Egypt, have pointed out similarities between their experience and Canada’s migrant detention system. They highlight the government’s hypocrisy in criticizing Egypt’s human rights record, while not addressing Canada’s own violations.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“With the current policies the federal government has initiated, a trend has been going on for two decades now where we are seeing an increasing practice of illegalizing immigrants.” - Harald Bauder, RCIS[/quote]

Canada’s position on migrants also comes in opposition to increasing openness from its closest international ally. Obama recently announced a plan to offer millions of undocumented immigrants the right to work legally. This comes as part of a larger commitment to fixing America’s “broken” immigration system. Harper has yet to offer comments on Canada’s system. “With the current policies the federal government has initiated, a trend has been going on for two decades now where we are seeing an increasing practice of illegalizing immigrants,” explains Bauder.

Greyson and Loubani are adamant that Canada should fall in line with both the United States and the European Union and implement a 90-day limit, to spare migrants and their families the psychological stress of continuous detention. Chak agrees that for detainees, the most damaging aspect of this system is, “being detained indefinitely, without charge or trial, and never knowing when they’re going to come out.”

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Top Stories
Sunday, 09 February 2014 17:51

Pulse: Latin America

by Maria Assaf

This is a compilation of the most important news stories reported by Latin American media in Canada, during Dec. and Jan.

Harper meets up with ethnic media in Toronto (Dec. 12, 2013)

On Nov. 28, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen organized a reception for immigrant media outlets. The event took place at the International Plaza Hotel in Toronto. El Centro News said the PM spoke about the role of ethnic media and spent some time over lunch discussing issues pertaining to each community.

The PM held a similar meeting, infamously known as the “secret ethnic media meeting,” in Vancouver early in Jan. 2014. Tim Harper, in a column for the Toronto Star, bashed ethnic media outlets in attendance for not challenging the PM on matters such as the Senate scandal, unemployment rates and Harper’s overall unpopularity.


Mexican woman dies in custody in Vancouver (Jan. 29, 2014)

A Mexican woman who attempted suicide while in a holding cell at Vancouver international airport, in the custody of border patrol, died on Dec. 28.

The Canadian Border Service Agency (CBSA) had arrested Lucia Vega Jimenez in Vancouver on Dec. 1 after she was wanted for immigration violations.  

The agency kept her in detention for three weeks while authorities processed her deportation back to her native country. She attempted to kill herself on Dec. 20 and died in a hospital bed eight days later.

Noticias Montreal reported Ms. Vega, 42, had requested refugee status, which was denied in 2010.

She was fearful of returning to Mexico due to what she described as a “domestic situation” back home.

Reports stated Ms. Vega was working illegally in Canada as a hotel cleaner and sent all her wages to her ailing mother in Mexico. While in custody, someone stole all her savings.

The Mexican consulate in Vancouver said they had arranged a temporary house for Vega upon her return to Mexico City. Officials who had spoken to her earlier said notice of her death came as a surprise.

There has been controversy surrounding CBSA’s publishing of Ms. Vega’s death a month after the fact. The agency says they were not trying to keep information secret.  

The RCMP investigated the matter at the time and confirmed her death was not the result of a crime.

The CBSA has declined public interviews, but said in a public release “the health and security of those under our watch is a priority. We take this responsibility very seriously and we think it is important to determine the circumstances surrounding the loss of a life.”

This incident has generated some international tension. Mexican officials say they are anxiously waiting for accountability from Canadian authorities.  

“We are angered by what happened and we expect answers from the authorities that have jurisdiction in this case,” says Claudia Franco Hijuelos, Consul-General of Mexico.


Air Canada suspends ticket sales in Venezuela (Jan. 25, 2014)

Air Canada joined various international airlines Jan. 24 halting ticket sales throughout Venezuela for several hours.

The airlines were protesting the Nicolas Maduro government decision to devalue the bolivar (Venezuela’s national currency).

While this move makes flying abroad more expensive for Venezuelans, the amount that airlines collect from ticket sales in Venezuela diminished dramatically.

The companies shut down their doors to all customers while they adjusted the prices in their systems to avoid losing money.

Airlines who joined the suspension included United, Delta, Copa and American Airlines, among others.

Megan McCarthy, a spokesperson for United, said: “When the exchange rate was updated, we had to hold selling [tickets].”

The carriers have been battling the Venezuelan government, claiming it owes them $3.3 billion (U.S.).

The airlines are asking the government for bonds, cash and jet fuel in order to get even.

Sales for tickets reopened on Jan. 25, but the battle continues between international airlines and the Maduro government.

Celebrations kick off for Peruvian-Canadian Chamber of Commerce awards (Jan. 29)

On Jan. 22, the Peruvian-Canadian Chamber of Commerce recognized the achievements of some of its most prominent members.

Scotiabank was named the business of the year. The annual award was given to Dieter W. Jentsch, head of International Banking at the bank.

The ceremony, conducted by Cesar Sanguinetti, took place at the National Club. Jim Louttit, the Chamber’s president talked about major investment, imports and exports between the two nations in the last few years.

Commerce between the two countries is centered on minerals such as gold, zinc and cooper.


Woman who faced domestic abuse is being deported from Canada

Ivonne Angelina Hernandez was captured by a border patrol On Jan. 22

She was released three days later after reaching an agreement with the authorities that cost her $4,000 and some time in parole.

Now she is waiting to be deported back to her native country, Mexico. The date is uncertain.

Ms. Hernandez took her one-year-old son with her to an abused women shelter after a fight with her partner on Dec. 11, 2013. Her now ex-partner proceeded to denounce her to the authorities, who then arrested her.

She requested asylum when she arrived in Canada in 2009, but her application was denied in 2011. Since then, Ms. Hernandez has remained in Canada without papers.

Because of her denied-asylum status, a court gave Ms. Hernandez’s ex-partner custody of her son.

She asked for a re-opening of her case in November citing humanitarian concerns. She said she was trying to protect her son.

An American-based NGO called “Solidarity without Frontiers,” says there is little possibility that Hernandez will be allowed to remain in Canada.

“Even though Mexico has one of the most elevated domestic abuse rates in the world, the Canadian government still considers it a safe country,” stated the group.


New app targets Mexican diaspora

MiConsulmex is a new app designed to provide access to consular services for Mexicans residing or travelling through Canada.

Sergio Alcocer Martinez de Castroy, the North American sub-secretary for the Mexican embassy in Ottawa, presented the app along with Ambassador Francisco Suarez Davila. The launch coincides with the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Canada and Mexico.

The app is free and available for Apple and Android devices through these links:

The software is designed to ease access to services such as obtaining protection or scheduling appointments at one of Mexico’s five consulates in Canada as well as at the Mexican embassy in Ottawa.

According to Mexican authorities in Canada, there are more than 150,000 Mexican nationals working or studying in Canada. Mexico is the second most popular touristic destination for Canadians.  

While the app targets those of Mexican origin, it is also accessible to anyone requiring services from the Mexican government.

Published in Latin America

New Canadian Media provides nonpartisan news and views representing all Canadian immigrant communities. As part of this endeavour, we re-publish aggregated content from various ethnic media publishers in Canada in an effort to raise the profile of news and commentary from an immigrant perspective. New Canadian Media, however, does not guarantee the accuracy of or endorse the views and opinions contained in content from such other sites. The views expressed on this site are those of the individual writers and commentators, and not necessarily those of New Canadian Media. Copyright © 2019 All rights reserved