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On Monday, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale announced the federal government would be pouring $138 million into upgrading immigration detention facilities across Canada. Two detention centres, in Quebec and British Columbia, will also be replaced.
The announcement comes after Goodale refused to meet with hunger-striking immigration detainees in two maximum security Ontario prisons.
The detainees held an 18-day hunger strike to demand a meeting with Goodale and call for an end to Canada’s practice of indefinite detention of migrants, which the UN condemned in a report last August.
“Immigration detention, including in immigration holding centres, is imprisonment without charges or trial. It should end, not be expanded by throwing over $100 million at it,” Tings Chak, organizer with End Immigration Detention Network (EIDN), told rabble in a text message.
EIDN is calling for “overhaul of the laws and policies governing detentions, including placing a limit of 90 days on detentions, not build new prisons,” said Chak.
Goodale’s announcement a ‘distraction from the real issue’
Goodale told the public on Monday that his objective is to make detention a last resort.
Most of the money — $122 million — will be spent upgrading detention facilities in Laval, Quebec and Surrey, British Columbia.
Approximately $10.5 million will go to increasing access to health services, including mental health support, for immigration detainees and approximately $5 million will be funneled into developing alternatives to detention by increasing community supervision services.
Goodale did not refer to the immigration detainees’ demands to enforce a 90-day limit on detentions or put an end to maximum security imprisonment.
“The federal government’s announcement is a direct result of organizing by immigration detainees who were on hunger strike. We welcome the government’s acknowledgment for the need for reforms, but it fails to acknowledge that the system is inherently unfair,” Chak told rabble.
For Jaggi Singh, an organizer with Solidarity Across Borders, Goodale’s announcement is “a distraction from the real issue.”
“Detention centres shouldn’t exist. Nobody should be detained. We should be closing down immigration detention facilities across Canada and providing more than $138 million so that people can access health and mental services, legal services, language services, and other meaningful things. We [cannot continue] to frame the discussion around how we detain people,” Singh told rabble.
Singh argued that “the other part of the equation is that the reason why people are being detained is because they don’t have permanent immigration status.”
Solidarity Across Borders, a migrant justice group that works directly with detained migrants as well as individuals and families facing removal, calls for permanent immigration status for migrants in Canada.
Goodale saying he heard concerns about detention is ‘ludicrous’
“In my first few months as minister responsible for Canada Border Services Agency, I have certainly heard the concerns about immigration detention, and I’ve studied those concerns with great care,” Goodale told the public on Monday.
However, Goodale never met with the hunger-striking immigration detainees to discuss their demands, nor did he read the 17 replies he received in response to his written message inviting the strikers to explain why they should each be individually released, a Star report revealed.
“It’s ludicrous what he’s saying. You hear somebody when you’re actually in their presence and you talk and listen to them, and he hasn’t done that. If he goes to Lindsay, if he goes to Laval, and it’s not just some photo-op but he actually talks to people, then he can claim that,” Singh told rabble.
EIDN continues to echo the hunger strikers’ demands. “The primary objective for detention reform must be to bring Canada in line with international best practices,” Chak told rabble.
The group is calling on Canada to “ensure family reunification, prioritize the voices of detainees themselves who are calling for a limit on detentions, [put] an end to maximum security imprisonment and an overhaul of the judicial review process. Three people have died in the last six months, detainees can’t wait. We need a firm timeline,” Chak said.
Sophia Reuss is a Montreal-based writer, editor, and is a recent graduate of McGill University. She’s interested in how online media and journalism facilitate public accessibility and conversation. Sophia also writes and edits for the Alternatives International Journal. She is rabble’s current news intern.
Photo: flickr/Don Sniegowski