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Campaign Targeting Immigration Detention in Canada Builds Momentum

Positive Step in British Columbia as #WelcomeToCanada Campaign Moves to Quebec

© Brian Stauffer for Human Rights Watch

Since Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International launched the joint #WelcomeToCanada campaign in October 2021 calling on Canada to stop incarcerating immigration detainees in provincial jails, more than 5,000 people have written to the Government of British Columbia (BC) urging the province to listen.

In a positive move, BC’s government has confirmed to us it will review its immigration detention contract with the federal government, although it has yet to make an official announcement.

Image in shades of red with a fence in front of seated people.

After success in BC, we have now moved to Quebec and Nova Scotia, which like most provinces, have a contract with the federal government that allows for immigration detainees to be held in provincial jails. Call on Quebec and Nova Scotia to cancel this contract!

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While applauding this development, we urge BC’s government to ensure the review process is credible and legitimate by making it transparent and involving the meaningful participation of key stakeholders, including civil society organizations and those with lived experience in immigration detention. Officials need to detail who is conducting the review, the projected timeline, who will be consulted, the scope of issues to be examined, and the expected output at the conclusion of the review. The review’s findings, analysis, and outcome should also be made public.

Now, the #WelcomeToCanada campaign is continuing to the province of Quebec, which had the second-highest number of immigration detainees between 2018 and 2020, including hundreds of immigration detainees in its provincial jails. According to government statistics, over the past several years, Quebec consistently had the highest number of children in immigration detention, the majority of whom were under the age of 6.

Canada’s practice of incarcerating immigration detainees in provincial jails is a violation of international human rights standards. Immigration detainees are held exclusively under immigration – not criminal – law, but they are often subjected to some of Canada’s most restrictive conditions of incarceration, including maximum-security provincial jails and in some cases solitary confinement. While Canada prides itself on welcoming refugees and other newcomers, it remains one of the few countries in the global north without a maximum limit to the duration of immigration detention.

By allowing federal immigration detainees to be incarcerated in its provincial jails where they may remain with no end in sight, the Government of Quebec is implicated in the Federal Government’s human rights abuses. Quebec has a real opportunity to show leadership by canceling its immigration detention contract and protecting the basic rights of people in search of safety or a better life in this country.

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