CBSA's immigration detention reform welcomed

By Staff

The Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) must follow through on a promise to change its immigration detention policies, says Toronto immigration lawyer Robin Seligman.

As part of its new National Immigration Detention Framework, the agency announced a $138-million investment it says will “transform” the system and ensure that “detention is truly a last resort.”

Under the previous federal government led by Stephen Harper, imprisonment of people found inadmissible to Canada became routine, Seligman says.

“It was more like a detain-first policy, but hopefully that will change now, and the message will filter all the way down to the CBSA offices,” she tells

Seligman, principal of immigration law boutique Seligman Professional Corporation, was among the stakeholders consulted by the CBSA during the preparation of the new framework.

“Reform is badly needed in this area. It has been extremely punitive, particularly in Ontario,” Seligman says. “It seems like the CBSA has been listening, so I hope it translates into action.”

The CBSA can detain parties as long as they are deemed a danger to the public, are a risk to avoid deportation or if their identity cannot be verified.

For the 2015-2016 fiscal year, the CBSA says it held 6,596 people for an average of 23 days. However, a recent investigation into the state of immigration detention by the Toronto Star found some individuals were spending months or years in maximum-security jails, with the most difficult to deport facing indefinite detention.

The total held last year according to the CBSA’s own numbers included 201 children, 20 of whom were unaccompanied by parents or guardians.

“Detaining children is just unacceptable,” Seligman says.

In its new framework, the CBSA revealed it is “committed to reducing the housing and detention of minors and the separation of families to the greatest extent possible” and that it expected to “drastically reduce” the number of children held with the use of community-based alternatives.

The agency is also exploring policy changes that would “reduce the length of detention for individuals that do not pose a danger to Canadian society and who collaborate with the government in completing their immigration processes, including up to removal from Canada as required.”

“These are positive developments. However, most Canadians would be shocked to hear that it is much more difficult to be released from detention for an immigration matter than it is to get bail for a serious criminal matter. There really has to be a serious change in attitude and policy by the CBSA," Seligman says.

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