"We are taking a stand. We want Immigration to know what’s going on. We want the public to contact Immigration Canada. We need the Canadian public to put pressure on the Immigration minister so they can stop this lengthy and cruel and unusual detentions." -- Martin Sisay, from inside Lindsay’s maximum-security prison
"I missed three of my sons birthdays, I missed three anniversaries with my wife…I can not see myself here being detained indefinitely and thinking about them. That will drive me crazy. So I have to keep it out of sight and out of mind. How inhumane is that. I am a father and I am a husband. Should I even be allowed to feel like this." -- Amin Mjasiri, from inside Lindsay’s maximum-security prison
On December 14 2013 busloads of people from Toronto, Kitchener and Guelph will travel to Central East Correctional Facility in Lindsay, Ontario to protest the inhumane and indefinite detention of migrants being held in a maximum-security prison. Some of those riding on the buses will be on a 24 hour fast in solidarity with migrant detainees who will begin a 72 hour fast inside their cells today.
These people include community members and the families and friends of these same migrants, asking only that their friends, husbands, fathers be allowed to come back to the community.
On September 17 2013, 191 migrant detainees refused to enter their cells starting the largest known migrant detainee strike in Canadian history. The following day, September 18, migrants initiated a 24 hour hunger strike. On September 23, the migrants restarted their hunger strike.
Two of the hunger strikers, Lynval Daley and Amin Mjasiri, were on strike for more than 60 days. Striking migrants have faced reprisals with many deported, locked up in segregation, moved to other prisons and denied access to legal counsel. Yet actions have continued. Demanding the detainees either be removed or released within 90 days, they inspired people on the outside to create the End Indefinite Immigration Detention Network (EIDN).
On any given day 600 or more people are trapped in immigration cells across Canada. Over 100 of those are being held on a long-term basis, some of whom have been jailed for more than five years.
Unlike many other countries, Canada has no limit on how long a person can be held in order to remove them -- a presumptive period. The United States and European Union both have such limits. The United Nation’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions has held that countries must have such a presumptive period.
Detainees are demanding a 90 day limit on their detention, and an end to maximum-security incarceration.
Margaret Parsons, Executive Director of the African Canadian Legal Clinic, explains that "unlike the United States and the European Union, Canada has no limit on how long migrants can be held pending a deportation. When Canada can’t deport migrants because of lack of travel documents or due to the political climate of home countries, these migrants become indefinitely detained" adding that "detained migrants are predominantly racialized people that are being denied status wholesale, and then being punished for just simply living here."
"My son has been in jail for over 28 months and his life is just passing him by," says Mohamed Mjasiri, the father of Amin Mjasiri, who is originally from Kenya and one of the men on hunger strike. "Canada can’t deport him anywhere, they flew him to Tanzania and the Tanzanians sent him back. If he was out with his family, he could be putting his life together and getting his refugee status back, instead he’s just wasting away in a prison cell."
Support for the detainees is growing.
On November 4, John Greyson and Tarek Loubani, who spent 7 weeks in a prison in Egypt without charges, visited the detainees in Lindsay and were critical of the Canadian government. "These detentions are arbitrary, indefinite and that makes them unjust," said Loubani.
Naomi Klein, John Greyson, Council of Canadians, Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Law Union of Ontario, Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture, Public Services Alliance of Canada -- Ontario, Shit Harper Did and over 50 other leading labour, civil society, grassroots groups and individuals have spoken out in support. A complaint is pending at the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Immigration detention must be contextualized in a history of denial of status and justice to migrants, particularly racialized peoples. As a direct result of the Harper government’s legislative changes to immigration policy -- though following a long legacy of racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia and exclusion in Canadian Immigration policy -- migrants to Canada face much stricter practices under the Tories concerning detentions and deportations.
Legislative changes have meant that the exercise of discretionary powers by enforcement agents has been directed towards enforcement and incarceration. People with precarious status face intimidation and unfair treatment by immigration enforcement officials who look for reasons to detain and deport. People can be detained if they pose a danger to the public, if their identity is in question or if there is reason to believe that they will not appear for immigration proceedings.
Though these terms sound somewhat reasonable in words, a danger to the public designation can come from asking officers why one is being detained -- and a person can be considered a flight risk because the mail was sent to the wrong address and hence not received.
When some of the same people put forward their requests to stay in Canada, reasons like length of time lived in Canada are ignored and requests for a stay of removal on good grounds such as a serious medical conditions are denied.
Khurshid Begum Awan, a 57 year old Pakistani woman who was ordered to leave the country in August of this year, despite being hospitalized for a severe heart condition, is not exceptional. Her daughter speaking at the church where the Awan family is now in sanctuary stated, "We want to stop being afraid. My mother wants status. We want my father to come back. We want to stay together as a family, in our house, in Montreal. We are scared. We were living this kind of life in Pakistan. We face violence by my ex-husband and the Sipah-e-Sahaba in Pakistan. I came to Canada for freedom. But Canada had deported my father with memory loss. The Canadian government wants to deport my mom."
The End Immigration Detention Network opposes all detentions and deportations and supports status for all. Our demands outline four pragmatic steps to be taken by the government:
1. Freedom for the wrongly jailed: Release all migrant detainees who have been held for longer than 90 days.
2. End arbitrary and indefinite detention: Implement a 90-day "presumptive period." If removal cannot happen within 90 days, immigration detainees must be released. Presumptive periods are recommended by the United Nations, and are the law in the United States and the European Union.
3. No maximum security holds: Immigration detainees should not be held in maximum security provincial jails and must have access to basic services and be close to family members.
4. Overhaul the adjudication process: Give migrants fair and full access to legal aid, bail programs and pro bono representation.
Tings Chak is an organizer with No One is Illegal Toronto and the End Immigration Detention Network.
Mac Scott is an Immigration Consultant at Carranza LLP and organizes with No One Is Illegal Toronto and is part of the End Immigration Detention Network.
Photo: End Immigration Detention