Asylum seekers face abuse, discrimination in Canada’s immigration detention system: report

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Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International say Canada detains thousands of asylum seekers every year in often abusive conditions where people of colour appear to be held for longer periods.

The two leading human rights organizations documented in a joint report how people in immigration detention, including those fleeing persecution and seeking protection in Canada, are regularly handcuffed, shackled and held with little to no contact with the outside world.

The secretary general of Amnesty International Canada says the country’s abusive immigration detention system is in stark contrast to the rich diversity and the values of equality and justice that Canada is known for.

Ketty Nivyabandi says there should be no place in Canada for racism, cruelty, and human rights violations against people coming to this country seeking safety and a better life.

The Canada Border Services Agency says on its website that individuals may be detained for a number of reasons, including if they have criminal convictions, if they lack “ties to the community” or if they may be a danger to the public or the security of Canada.

It says a national immigration detention framework introduced in 2016, with a five-year investment of $138 million, created a “better, fairer” system that supports the “humane and dignified treatment of individuals while protecting public safety.”

Nivyabandi says Canada should sign and ratify the United Nations’ Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture to further prevent violations and open detention sites for international inspection.

She adds Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are calling on the Canadian authorities to end the inhumane treatment of people in the immigration and refugee protection system by gradually ending immigration detention in Canada.

The 100-page report says people can be held for months or years on immigration-related grounds. Detainees who are from communities of colour, particularly Black detainees, appear to be held for longer periods, often in provincial jails, it says.

The report says Canada locked up 8,825 people between the ages of 15 and 83, including 1,932 in provincial jails between April 2019 and March 2020.

During the same period, 136 children were put in detention to avoid separating them from their detained parents, including 73 children under age six.