British Columbia ends immigration detention arrangement with CBSA, citing human rights

British Columbia is ending an agreement with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) to hold immigration detainees in provincial correctional centers, saying it does not align with its position on human rights .

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said in a statement Thursday that the province conducted a review that analyzed its contract with the agency, including public safety, and consulted with advocacy groups.

“The review has brought to light that some aspects of the arrangement do not align with our government’s commitment to upholding human rights standards or our commitment to pursuing social justice and equity. for everyone,” he said.

The report says the number of immigration detainees in provincial custody is falling, but provincial jails are being used to hold “high-risk inmates.” He also noted that while the CBSA compensates BC Corrections for detaining detainees, it does not cover the full cost.

“This is a trend that is expected to continue given the overall reduction in the number of inmates in provincial custody. If the arrangement ends, these are resources that could be used to support BC Corrections clients, including those in custody with complex and behavioral needs,” he said.

The move follows calls from human rights advocates in British Columbia urging the province to end its contract with the CBSA and stop incarcerating immigrants and refugees in provincial jails.

A coalition of human rights organizations and advocates, including the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, launched a campaign in October urging Canadians to call on the provincial government to stop allow the CBSA to use provincial jails to lock down asylum seekers.

The groups released a report in June 2021 indicating that immigrants without any criminal charges against them are being held in detention centers, federal prisons or provincial prisons for an “indefinite period”.

Human rights group says decision an important step

“Canada is one of the few countries in the North that has no legal limit on the length of immigration detention, which means people can be detained for months or years with no end in sight. “, the groups said in a joint statement following the announcement.

“British Columbia’s decision is an important step on the road to ending immigration detention in provincial jails in Canada.”

Ketty Nivyabandi, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, said in a statement that she commends British Columbia for being the first province to make the decision, calling it a “momentous step.”

“This is a real human rights victory, a victory that upholds the dignity and rights of people who come to Canada seeking safety or a better life,” she said.

According to campaign organizers, between April 2019 and March 2020, nearly 9,000 people were in immigration detention in Canada, including 138 infants and children. Since 2000, at least 16 people have died in these detention centers.

In the statement, associate director of disability rights at Human Rights Watch, Samer Muscati, added that he hopes the decision will inspire other provinces and the federal government to follow suit.

Advocates fight for an end to immigration detention

Exactly 12 years ago, Sara Lopez fled Mexico. Lopez now lives in Burnaby, but was held in a Surrey jail for three months after applying for refugee status. During this time, she did not have access to a lawyer and she was unable to speak with her family at home.

“The only freedom I had there was to go to the bathroom and take a shower,” Lopez said.

She has been on the front lines of the fight to end immigration detention in Canada and says BC’s announcement marks a huge step forward.

“This is a victory for human rights and for those who are [dealing with] immigration issue. »

British Columbia Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender, who called on the province to end its involvement in immigration detention, said the practice is a human rights violation and she hopes that it will bring about greater changes.

“We are all looking. What happens next? Is the Canada Border Services Agency reviewing its own immigration detention practices across the board and working to put end to immigration detention in Canada.”

Farnworth says BC Corrections will provide CBSA with 12 months’ notice as required by their current contract.

“BC Corrections is committed to working with the CBSA to develop a safe and effective transition plan that upholds our shared commitment to public safety while ensuring that the rights of individuals are preserved and protected,” said Farnworth.

Human rights groups said BC Corrections told them the province would give the agency formal written notice to terminate the contract next week.

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