Immigration detention audit highlights need for reform

By Staff

The federal government must act on recommendations to reform Canada’s long-term detention review process, Toronto immigration lawyer Robin Seligman tells

An audit of the regime, commissioned by the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) of Canada, found the odds were against detainees, particularly those without legal representation or living with mental illnesses.

Non-citizens can currently be incarcerated without charge when officials are unable to identify them, or if they are judged a flight risk or a danger to the public.

Those in custody are entitled to a review of their status, but the audit found decision makers often make rulings based on factual inaccuracies and speculation, accepting border guards’ statements at face value.

The report recommends a revamp for the detention review process, as well as an immediate review of long-term files, including 80 individuals who have been held for more than a year.

“I do a great deal of work in this area, and the audit and recommendations are a welcome change,” says Seligman, principal of immigration law boutique Seligman Law. “This audit has identified some of the major problems, and hopefully its recommendations will be implemented because reform is badly needed.”

According to a Reuters report, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is committed to eliminating indefinite detention for non-citizens, but Seligman says the government must act now.

“We have a terrible record and the rates of incarceration are simply unacceptable,” she adds, explaining that problems with the system date back to the previous federal government led by Stephen Harper, when imprisonment of people found inadmissible to Canada became routine.

In response to the report, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale announced an expansion to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) program “Alternatives to Detention,” which he claims will reduce the immigration detention population and improve the options for managing vulnerable people in the system.

The expanded options now include:

  • Community case management and supervision services offered in-community by third-party providers to up to 800 individuals released from detention
  • Voice reporting technology that allows up to 10,000 people to report to the CBSA via cellphones or landlines
  • An electronic monitoring pilot program dealing with up to 20 cases for individuals judged to require a higher level of intervention to properly mitigate risks

“The introduction of an expanded Alternatives to Detention Program is a pillar of CBSA’s efforts to treat people within the immigration system with the utmost dignity and respect, while balancing the need for public safety,” Goodale said in a statement

In a statement following the release of the audit, the IRB said it agrees with the recommendations and has already issued an action plan for implanting them.

“As was the board's intention when commissioning the audit, the Immigration Division (ID) will use the recommendations as an opportunity to make positive changes and improvements to its processes,” the statement notes. “We are hopeful that our planned activities in response to the recommendations will improve all detention review hearings at the ID.”

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