BC Voids Immigration Detention Agreement With CBSA, Winning Praise From Rights Advocate

A Human Rights Watch advocate says he hopes British Columbia’s decision to end its immigration detention agreement with the Canada Border Services Agency will create a “domino effect” across the country.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth announced Thursday BC’s decision to end its agreement with the agency to hold immigrants detained in provincial correctional facilities, saying the arrangement does not align with the province’s stance on human rights.

The move came after calls by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International for BC to terminate its contract with the federal government.

Samer Muscati, associate director for disability rights at Human Rights Watch, called the decision a “historic step.”

“Hopefully this will end some of the abuses we’re seeing and prevent people from being detained in the worst of conditions, at least in British Columbia. We’re hoping this will create a ripple effect where other provinces will take the lead that BC it’s taking to do the same thing,” Muscati said in an interview Thursday.

“Hopefully this is also a wake-up call for the federal government to realize that the current immigration detention system they have is not sustainable and they really need to see a paradigm shift in the way they do it.”

Farnworth said the province conducted a review that looked at its contract with the agency, including public safety, and consulted with advocacy groups.

“The review brought to light that aspects of the settlement do not align with our government’s commitment to uphold human rights standards or our dedication to seeking social justice and equity for all,” he said.

CBSA said it couldn’t answer the questions before the deadline.

The report says the number of immigrants held in provincial custody is declining, but provincial jails are used to house “high-risk detainees.”

Human rights advocate applauds BC’s decision to annul immigration detention agreement with CBSA. #ImmigrationDetention #BCPoli #CBSA

He also said that while CBSA compensates BC Corrections to hold detainees, it does not cover the full cost.

“This is a trend that is likely to continue given the overall reduction in the number of detainees in provincial custody. If the arrangement were to end, these are resources that could be used to support BC Corrections clients, including those in custody with complex needs and behaviors,” he said.

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

“Canada is among the few countries in the global north with no legal limit on the length of immigration detention, meaning people can be held for months or years with no end in sight,” the groups said in a statement. joint press release following Thursday’s announcement. “British Columbia’s decision is an important milestone on the road to ending immigration detention in Canada’s provincial prisons.”

Sara Lopez, an immigrant who was held for three months at the Alouette Correctional Center for Women in Maple Ridge after seeking asylum in 2012, called the decision a relief.

He said he has never understood why the CBSA jails people who are “simply fleeing violence.”

“Let’s cross our fingers that it happens in every province in this country,” he said in an interview Thursday.

Ketty Nivyabandi, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, said in the statement that she congratulates BC for being the first province to make the decision, calling it a “momentous step.”

“This is a true victory for human rights, upholding the dignity and rights of people who come to Canada in search of safety or a better life,” he said.

BC Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender joined the groups in calling for an end to the practice across the country, saying CBSA data shows that 94 percent of detained immigrants are being held for criminal reasons. administrative and do not represent any risk to the public.

“Detaining innocent migrants in prisons is cruel, unfair and violates human rights commitments. The CBSA can still hold migrants in a detention center, but this is a significant first step toward affirming the human rights of detainees,” he said in a press release Thursday. “Now, it is up to the federal government to abolish all migrant detentions and expand the use of community-based alternatives that support people.”

Farnworth said BC Corrections will provide CBSA with 12 months’ notice of termination, as required by its current contract. The review noted that the CBSA may need time to “plan and implement additional or alternative facilities that are safe and secure so as not to compromise public safety in BC or put those in their care (staff, contractors, and detainees) at risk in any way.” “.

The human rights groups said they have been told by BC Corrections that the province will give the agency official written notice to terminate the contract next week.

“We hope this is a step towards abolishing immigration detention rather than finding other ways to detain people through detention centers or other kinds of punitive measures,” Muscati said. “There is a real opportunity here to do something different.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 21, 2022.

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