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Canadian Religious Groups Speak Out on Immigration Detention

Interfaith Gathering Highlights Abuses, Calls for a Path to Abolishing Detention

Armenian Orthodox Priest Meghrig Parikian, right, hands a Christmas chocolate to Gerget Prtoyan during a service at the St. Mary Armenian Apostolic Church, December 11, 2015, in Toronto, where Syrian refugees arrived that Friday morning. © 2015 Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP

Religious organizations across Canada urged the federal and provincial governments to get on a path toward abolishing immigration detention following a key interfaith gathering to discuss the issue yesterday.

Religious communities have been at the forefront of welcoming refugees across Canada for decades. Despite their efforts, the Canadian government has held tens of thousands of people in immigration detention over the past decade; rather than a warm welcome, many people are met here with handcuffs.

One of the event’s panelists, “Amina,” is a woman from Afghanistan who sought refugee protection, but was detained upon her arrival in Canada when she was a child. “The way we were treated – being arrested and detained – gave us an idea that we are different. Those memories still haunt us,” she said. “I hope that other children and newcomers don’t have to spend years trying to heal. I hope they find more compassion and kindness here.”

Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton, United Church of Canada minister and former General Secretary of the Canadian Council of Churches, spoke about the role that faith communities have in protecting human rights. “It is the divine imperative that everyone should have all that they need to live a life in which they can provide for themselves and their families. It is also the divine imperative that no one should be afraid. Human dignity, human rights mean living without fear.” 

Over 90 people attended the gathering, which is part of the #WelcometoCanada campaign, and was hosted by Human Rights Watch and Citizens for Public Justice, an ecumenical nonprofit that promotes justice among the Canadian public.

A joint report by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International highlights how immigration detainees in Canada experience unnecessarily restrictive confinement conditions. Immigration detainees are handcuffed, shackled, searched, and can be subjected to solitary confinement with no set release date. Detention can have devastating consequences, especially for those with psychosocial disabilities. Immigration detention also has a disproportionate impact on communities of color, and these effects ripple beyond immigration detainees and harm their loved ones. 

Children may also be held in immigration detention. Those who are spared from detention may be separated from their detained parents, and risk being placed in the care of welfare services.

It is time for Canada to truly welcome people seeking safety or a better life.

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