BC civil liberties body calls on other governments to join BC in ending immigration detention

“We hope that BC sets an example for the rest of the country,” says Mara Selanders, an attorney with the BC Civil Liberties Association.

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A civil liberties group says the British Columbia government’s decision to end immigration detention in provincial jails should not be taken as an opportunity for the Canada Border Services Agency to increase the number of detention centers or the use of restricted detention alternatives such as ankle monitors or curfews.

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Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth announced last week that the province would end an agreement with the CBSA to hold immigrant detainees in provincial correctional facilities, saying the arrangement does not align with his stance on human rights.

Mara Selanders, an attorney with the BC Civil Liberties Association, says that while the group is “encouraged” by the decision, it is only the first step.

CBSA says in a statement that the use of provincial correctional facilities for immigration detention is a “measure of last resort” and that the number of people detained in provincial facilities has steadily decreased, from 467 in 2017 to 15 as of this month.

Calls for reform began in June 2021 when Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International released a report saying immigrants without criminal charges are being held in detention centers, federal prisons, or provincial jails for “indefinite periods of time.”

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BC Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth in April 2022.
BC Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth in April 2022. Photo by DARRYL DYCK /THE CANADIAN PRESS

They launched a campaign asking BC to terminate his contract last October and then expanded their push to Quebec and Nova Scotia.

“We hope that BC sets an example for the rest of the country and that each province terminates its agreement with the CBSA, which in turn will increase pressure on our federal government to abolish immigration detention altogether,” Selanders told a conference. press release on Thursday. .

Samer Muscati, associate director for disability rights at Human Rights Watch, called BC’s announcement a “clear victory for human rights.”

Muscati said the joint campaign asking provinces to rescind their individual contracts will soon set its sights on Ontario.

“Ultimately, it is the federal government that is solely legally responsible for border enforcement and immigration detention, so the question is why are provincial governments selling their own reputations by getting their hands dirty in this horrible business? It doesn’t make any sense and we hope they agree,” he said at the news conference.

“At the same time, we are continually advocating with the federal government in the hope that it will cancel all of these contracts at once rather than the provinces backing out of this phase-out process.”


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