Today at 2.45pm in Toronto, Vancouver, London, Ont., and Montreal, over 10,000 petitions, supported by over 70 organizations and societies, and representing over 1 million people, will be delivered to the immigration enforcement centre in Toronto. The petitions call for changes to immigration laws and policies that, according to the Immigration Legal Committee, “violates Canadian constitutional law, runs contrary to standards set by other countries, and violates international law.”
The day of action is organized by the End Immigration Detention network, and comes a few days after the B.C. Coroners Service announced that it will launch an inquest into the death of Lucia Vega Jimenez, who died two months ago after attempting to kill herself while in detention at a Vancouver Airport holding centre.
The death has highlighted the need for a change to the Canadian Immigration laws as Harsha Walia, of No One Is Illegal Vancouver, told The Star “An independent, transparent and public inquest is a necessary first step to shine some light on the secrecy that has surrounded the tragic death of Lucia. However, an inquest alone is not sufficient to address the impunity with which CBSA operates. The devastating consequences of policies like indefinite detention, mandatory detention and administrative detention in Canada need to be scrapped.”
Walia also told the Star that while an independent complaint and investigation process is crucial to the civilian oversight of the CBSA, political and legislative changes are needed to ensure the agency is accountable and transparent to the public.
Canada is the only western country that has no limit to the time an immigrant can be detained. This is a stark contrast to many other countries, such as the U.S. and those in the EU, which have strict laws that limit the maximum time to only 90 days. The Canadian procedure states that as long as the individual in question has a “monthly detention review meeting,” he or she can be detained indefinitely. This has resulted in some people, who cannot be returned to their home country due to circumstances outside their control, being incarcerated for over a decade.
Each city protest will be focusing on different issues within the current system of immigration. Toronto’s protest will concentrate on ending indefinite detention because, says Tings Chaks, the Toronto protest organizer, it has the largest number of migrant inmates. The Star reports that according to border officials, roughly 600 people are on immigration hold at a given time throughout the year. Of those, it adds, about 10 percent have been detained for over a year.
The petitions demand four major changes to be made to the Immigration Law that would make the system closer to international standards:
Freedom for the wrongly jailed: Release all migrant detainees who have been held for longer than 90 days.
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.
No maximum security holds: Immigration detainees should not be held in maximum security provincial jails; must have access to basic services and be close to family members.
Overhaul the adjudication process: Give migrants fair and full access to legal aid, bail programs and pro bono representation.
We hope the petitions will be enough to convince the government that change is needed, so more extreme protests, such as the 191 migrant detainees who went on hunger strike last year, will no longer be necessary.