Demands for change to Canada's immigration detention system mount in wake of deaths

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Nearly 80 detainees at Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ontario ended a hunger strike over the weekend that was initiated last Thursday April 21.

The strike had been an effort to draw attention to indefinite immigration detention and recent inmate deaths. The detainees -- all racialized, undocumented men -- have two main demands: end immigration detention and "end indefinite and maximum security imprisonment, overhaul the judicial review process, and improve prisons conditions."

According to the End Immigration Detention Network, the strike concluded after the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) promised to provide updates and answers to these issues in two weeks.

There have been at least 13 deaths in Canadian immigration detention since 2000 -- most of which have had minimal explanation or understanding.

The most recent death, which occurred on March 13 2016, was of Francisco Javier Romero Astorga, a 39-year-old Chilean father of four. Since his death, Astorga's family has been very active in seeking answers and justice within Canada's immigration system.

"We are fighting now to know the very basic things. Did he ask for a doctor? Did he get proper medical help? How long before someone checked on him," asked Astorgra's brother Esteban in a video posted to Facebook. "The Canadian government has called with no answers, but instead leaving us with more questions. We haven't received any autopsy reports…we need and want answers for our brother, but most important we do not want this to happen to anyone else too."

Macdonald Scott, spokesperson for the End Immigration Detention Network suggests that the hopelessness of the situations within these immigration detention facilities could be a factor.

"I think what's happening is people are being held indefinitely, they're being subjected to these reviews once a month where they're basically treated like children…and that gets to people," he told rabble over the phone.

"They're in maximum security, so they're in lockdown sometimes 23 hours a day, in their cells with nothing. There are no programs. There's no education. There's no access to anything and they're not given a date that they're going to be released."

These realities are issues that the End Immigration Detention Network is fighting against in solidarity with the detainees.

Last Friday, the group hosted a rally with No One Is Illegal outside of the Liberal Party Headquarters in Toronto, which included speakers from Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, Casa Salvador Allende and a phone call with a Lindsay prison detainee.

Black Lives Matter supporters and Indigenous groups that had been occupying INAC offices also attended the event in support of the detainees.

A letter from from immigration detainees to the federal government was also delivered to the Liberal Party Headquarters on Friday.

Along with a fair review system and a detainment facility that isn't maximum security, Scott mentioned that these groups are fighting for a shift away from indefinite detention -- an element that the UN has chastised Canada for.

"We're asking for a 90-day release period," he said. "You can't continue to hold people indefinitely. It breaks international law, it breaks human rights and it wrecks families and peoples' lives."

Detainees have previously staged multiple hunger strikes to protest treatment at the Lindsay facility and indefinite immigration detention.

To support the work of the End Immigration Detention Network and stand in solidarity with immigration detainees, sign this petition to the federal government. 

Requests for comment from NDP Immigration critic Jenny Kwan and Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship John McCallum were not answered before publication time.


Alyse Kotyk is a Vancouver-based writer and editor with a passion for social justice and storytelling. She studied English Literature and Global Development at Queen's University and is excited by media that digs deep, asks questions and shares narratives. Alyse was the Editor of Servants Quarters and has written for the Queen's News Centre, Quietly Media and the Vancouver Observer. She is now rabble’s News Intern.

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