Ontario’s government is terminating its immigration detention contract with the federal government, the latest in a slew of provinces to put an end to the abusive practice.
This welcome news comes as Quebec and New Brunswick also confirmed they are terminating immigration detention contracts with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). This follows cancellations by Alberta, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan.
Since the launch of the #WelcomeToCanada campaign in October 2021, 8 of Canada’s 10 provinces have made clear their steadfast opposition to the use of provincial jails for immigration detention. “People who come to Canada for a fresh start and a new life deserve a better welcome than a jail cell while paperwork is sorted out,” said Alberta’s public safety minister, Mike Ellis, in January.
Ontario has the largest number of people in immigration detention incarcerated in provincial jails in the country. In February, a coroner’s inquest into the 2015 death of Abdurahman Hassan, a refugee from Somalia, brought to light shocking details about Canada’s immigration detention system and ongoing abusive conditions in Ontario provincial jails.
The use of provincial jails for immigration detention is punitive, inconsistent with international human rights standards, and devastating to people’s mental health. In a 2021 report, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International documented that racialized people, and in particular Black men, are confined in more restrictive conditions and for longer periods of time in immigration detention than other detainees. Persons with disabilities also experience discrimination throughout the immigration detention process.
With only weeks until the contract terminations take effect in several provinces, the federal government still has no plan for detainees currently incarcerated in provincial jails on purely immigration grounds. However, CBSA has begun transferring people from Alberta jails to the immigration detention center in British Columbia, hundreds of kilometers away from their families and communities.
In severing their contracts, the eight provinces have ended their complicity with the federal government’s human rights violations in immigration detention. It’s time Prime Minister Justin Trudeau showed the same leadership.
Instead of transferring people across provinces to keep them detained, the federal government should invest in community-based alternatives to detention operated by local nonprofit organizations independently of CBSA.
Canada should also immediately end the use of provincial jails for immigration detention in the remaining two provinces, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland, and ultimately end immigration detention across the country.
It’s time for Canada to truly welcome people seeking safety or a better life.