Immigration detention centres are being emptied over COVID-19 concerns

Immigration detention centres are being emptied over COVID-19 concerns

Immigration detention centres are being emptied, as the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) is searching for alternative means to hold detainees until they have a chance to be processed in an effort to prevent the further spread of coronavirus.

Before the pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization in March 2020, the CBSA had 8,825 people detained from April 2019 to March 2020 under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, according to a report from CBC.

The numbers at the start of November for some of the CBSA facilities included a Laval, Quebec centre that can accommodate 109 detainees had just 12. In Toronto, a facility for 183, had 18. A new centre in Surrey, British Columbia with a capacity of 70, had 11.

The numbers included asylum seekers lacking identification papers, foreign workers with expired visas and individuals waiting deportation. More than 20 per cent, or nearly 2,000 of detainees were being held in provincial jails. As of last week, there's now just 94 people being held in jail facilities.

An African national who spoke anonymously to CBC's Radio-Canada told the station that being detained was "a traumatic experience," and that the COVID-inspired release of detainees didn't come from the heart."

It's not because the border officers believe detention is inhumane. No, it's because they're forced to do it, the man identified as Patrick said.

Extreme measures are used on people whose situation is irregular, whose only 'crime' is often to be lacking Canadian papers. For those who believed that Canada was a human paradise, it's a shock, Patrick told Radio-Canada. 

We come from countries where there is police and military abuse. We arrive here and what do we see? This country that is supposed to be one of the most developed in the world does the same thing.

Detainees are often held in these facilities because of a fear that around 85 per cent wouldn't show up to immigration hearings. 

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair responded to questions about the CBSA's approach, saying that "Immigration detention has always been a measure of last resort, used only in limited circumstances and only after alternatives to detention are first considered, in an email response to Radio-Canada.

The CBSA ensures that volumes remain at a minimum and that all options for release are explored for cases where an individual's risk can be managed in the community.