Canada: Stop Incarcerating Immigration Detainees in Provincial Jails

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(Ottawa) – Provincial governments should sever their contracts to hold immigration detainees in provincial jails, where many experience abusive conditions, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said today in opening a joint national campaign, #WelcomeToCanada.

While Canadianauthorities have released significant numbers of people from immigration detention since the onset of Covid-19 in March 2020, the proportion of those in provincial jails rather than immigration holding centers more than doubled in the six months following the onset of the pandemic.

Provincial jails in Canada are designed to hold people awaiting criminal court proceedings or serving criminal sentences of up to two years. Immigration detainees held in these jails – many of which are maximum-security facilities – are not only confined in more restrictive settings than those held in immigration holding centers, but they are also more likely to be detained for longer periods of time.

“By allowing the federal government to transfer immigration detainees to provincial jails, where they may remain with no end in sight, provincial authorities are implicated in Ottawa’s human rights abuses,” said Samer Muscati, associate disability rights director at Human Rights Watch. “The provincial governments have a real opportunity to show leadership by walking away from these contracts that allow serious violations to happen in their own backyards.”

According to government statistics, in the three-year period between April 2017 and March 2020, about a fifth of immigration detainees were held in 78 provincial jails across Canada. In the six months following the onset of the pandemic, between April and September 2020, 50 percent of immigration detainees were held in provincial jails. The average length of detention more than doubled, to 29 days compared with the same period the previous year, and at least 85 people were held for 100 days or longer.

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