Ontario the latest province to stop imprisoning migrants

Ontario has joined seven other provinces in announcing that it will no longer incarcerate migrants detained for administrative reasons in its provincial jails.

Earlier this week, a Radio-Canada/CBC report revealed that Quebec and New Brunswick had terminated their contracts with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), under which the provinces were paid to imprison foreign nationals detained under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

In the wake of this news, human rights organizations and immigration lawyers have stepped up their call for Ontario, where the CBSA detains the most migrants, to follow suit. not.

On Thursday, Ontario Solicitor General Michael Kerzner told federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino that his government was also canceling his contract. Under these agreements, provinces must give the CBSA one year’s notice of cancellation.

Ontario’s decision was first reported by The Globe and Mail. Radio-Canada/CBC confirmed the information.

“Ontario correctional facilities should focus on providing care and custody to people serving custodial sentences or remands, not immigration detainees, who are the responsibility of the federal government” , said a spokesperson for the ministry to Radio-Canada / CBC.

Years behind bars

Many migrants spent years in provincial prisons without knowing when they would be released.

This is what happened to Abdirahman Warssama, originally from Somalia, who was locked up for five years and seven months in maximum security prisons in Ontario, including one in Lindsay, Ontario, about 135 kilometers northeast. of Toronto.

Warssama, like other immigration detainees, was not charged with a crime at the time. Nevertheless, he was incarcerated with hardened criminals while the CBSA tried unsuccessfully to arrange for his removal to Somalia.

Abdirahman Warssama spent five years and seven months in prison without knowing when he would be released. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Between 2015 and 2020, about a quarter of the 8,000 migrants detained on average each year by the CBSA were sent to provincial jails.

In the 2021-2022 fiscal year, the number of immigration detainees had fallen to around 3,000, but almost a quarter of them were still being held in provincial jails. Most of the others were sent to federal immigration holding centers.

Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick have now joined British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan in ending their contracts with the CBSA.

Just weeks before some of those deals expire, Mendicino and Immigration Minister Sean Fraser admitted on Tuesday that they have not decided what will happen to immigration detainees in those prisons.

The absence of a federal plan worries many defenders of migrant rights.

2 remaining provinces

For now, Prince Edward Island continues to accept migrants in its provincial prisons, although it does not have an official agreement with the CBSA.

The Prince Edward Island Department of Justice and Public Safety told CBC/Radio-Canada that the CBSA began discussions in 2020 to reach a formal agreement, but that the province ” discontinued these discussions in 2021″.

The province “will continue to monitor how its provincial counterparts are progressing to ensure that Prince Edward Island is up to an agreed standard,” the department said without giving further details.

Newfoundland and Labrador said it has no formal agreement with the CBSA, but declined to say whether it would continue to detain immigrants as it has done in the past. The CBSA also declined to comment.

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