Vancouver City Council will vote on a historic motion later this month calling on the British Columbia government to stop incarcerating immigration detainees in provincial jails.
“No other city in Canada has taken this step,” said a coalition of Human Rights organizations and advocates, which launched a 14-day campaign today, urging the Federal government to do the same.
The #WelcomeToCanada campaign organizers said that between April 2019 and March 2020, almost 9,000 people were in Canadian immigration detention, including 138 infants and children.
The campaign’s objective is to get the B.C. provincial government to cancel its contract with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) which allows for federally held immigration detainees to be incarcerated in provincial jails, rather than dedicated immigration holding centres.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have also joined forces with the coalition of Canadian social justice, academic and grassroots organizations for the campaign, as well as individuals with lived experiences in immigration detention, and hundreds of lawyers, academic scholars, healthcare providers, and religious leaders across Canada.
“This practice is inherently punitive and inconsistent with international human rights standards, and it has devastating effects on people’s mental health,” said the coalition in a statement.
“Since 2000, at least 16 people lost their lives in immigration detention, and most of them were incarcerated in provincial jails.
“Over the past five years, Canada has detained tens of thousands of people seeking safety or a better life in this country, including in B.C. People held in immigration detention are held for immigration purposes but endure some of the country’s most restrictive conditions of confinement, including maximum-security provincial jails,” the coalition said.
Even though immigration detention is within federal jurisdiction, CBSA incarcerates nearly half of all immigration detainees in provincial jails. CBSA relies on contracts with provincial authorities to do this, according to the coalition.
“In the three years before the COVID-19 pandemic, more than a fifth of immigration detainees — about 5,400 — were held in 78 provincial jails across Canada, including in B.C. Following the onset of the pandemic, CBSA has relied more heavily on provincial jails (incarcerating 40 per cent of immigration detainees in provincial jails in fiscal year 2020-21 alone) and the average length of detention more than doubled,” states the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition, whose work is grounded in the foundation of universal human rights.
In January 2022, B.C.’s government said it will review its immigration detention contract with CBSA. A decision is expected in June.
B.C.’s Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender said detaining migrants in jails for immigration issues is cruel, unjust and violates human rights commitments, in a report to the B.C. Government in April.
“People held under immigration law have committed no crime, and it is wrong that we treat them as if they have,” said Commissioner. “I am calling on the B.C. government to terminate their agreement with the federal government that allow for the detention of migrants in provincial jails,” she said after making recommendations in a submission to the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General.
“This is an opportunity for B.C. to affirm the dignity and rights of migrants and fulfil our commitments to domestic and international human rights law,” she said.