The Canadian province of Prince Edward Island has joined eight other provinces to block the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) from using provincial jails to incarcerate migrants and asylum seekers on administrative grounds.
Since the launch of the #WelcomeToCanada campaign in October 2021, the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Ontario have notified the federal government that they would be ending their detention contracts with CBSA. So far, contracts in four provinces have expired, with the remaining five provinces due to expire by October 2024.
In 2021, CBSA’s immigration detention practices in Prince Edward Island were thrust into the spotlight when a 27-year-old international student was detained as a flight risk after seeking mental health care in a hospital. CBSA then used the man’s hospital records to argue for his deportation, citing “excessive demand” on health services, recommending that he should be kept in segregation in jail rather than released into the community.
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 Canada’s immigration detention than other detainees. Persons with disabilities also experience discrimination throughout the immigration detention process.
Despite the year-long notice-of-termination periods, CBSA has sought to extend already-terminated contracts. Quebec’s terminated contract was due to expire in December 2023, but Quebec authorities granted CBSA an extension until June 2024.
Under the contracts, the agency pays provinces hundreds of dollars daily for each immigration detainee incarcerated in a provincial jail. According to CBSA, in fiscal 2023 ending in March, the agency paid $615.80 Canadian dollars per day for each woman detained in a New Brunswick jail. That same fiscal year, CBSA spent C$82.7 million on detentions – higher than any of the previous four years.
Instead of seeking extensions to terminated contracts, the federal government should end the use of provincial jails for immigration detention. The government should invest in rights-respecting, community-based alternatives to detention that are operated by local nonprofit organizations independently of CBSA.
Nine of Canada’s ten provinces have stood up to CBSA, ending their complicity in human rights violations taking place in provincial jails against migrants and asylum seekers. It’s time Prime Minister Justin Trudeau showed the same leadership.