About a dozen people raise their fists an hold signs outside a prison at a rally opposing immigration detention in British Columbia's provincial jails.

Extension of B.C, Alberta immigration detention contracts ‘appalling and unnecessary’

Amnesty International Canada condemns the “appalling and unnecessary” extension of the practice of immigration detention in British Columbia and Alberta jails.

Over the past year, B.C. and Alberta announced they would stop holding migrants and refugees detained by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) on administrative immigration grounds. Both provinces have spoken out against incarcerating people without charges in provincial jails, with B.C. explicitly citing “human rights concerns” as a factor in its decision to cancel its contract with the CBSA.

The CBSA’s contracts with Alberta and B.C. were set to end on June 30, 2023 and July 31, 2023, respectively. However, the CBSA has repeatedly failed to prepare accordingly. Federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino confirmed this week that both contracts were extended by three months.

CBSA had more than a year to prepare for end of B.C., Alberta immigration detention contracts

“Three more months in a provincial jail is appalling and unnecessary,” Ketty Nivyabandi, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada’s English-speaking section, said on Thursday. “The federal government and the CBSA have had at least a year to prepare for the withdrawal of immigration detention from B.C. and Alberta jails. People seeking safety and opportunity in Canada should not have to endure the most severe confinement conditions in the Canadian system simply because the CBSA was not prepared to respect their rights.”

‘Arbitrarily detaining people without charges is an unacceptable and un-Canadian way to welcome people seeking a better life.’

Ketty Nivyabandi, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada

Nivyabandi echoed an open letter co-signed by Amnesty International Canada last week urging the federal government to ban the practice of immigration detention in provincial jails. In addition, Amnesty calls on Ottawa to establish a plan for the full eradication of immigration detention from Canada’s immigration and refugee-protection system.

“Arbitrarily detaining people without charges is an unacceptable and un-Canadian way to welcome people seeking a better life,” said Nivyabandi, a journalist, poet, activist, and former refugee from Burundi. “People deserve compassion – not captivity – as they navigate Canada’s immigration and refugee-protection system.”

Canada’s immigration detention system is unfairly punitive, breaches international human rights standards, and imposes severe harms on people’s mental health, according to a 2021 report by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. The system is also discriminatory. Compared to other people in immigration detention, racialized individuals, especially Black men, are held in more restrictive conditions and for longer periods of time. People with disabilities, including mental health conditions, also face discrimination throughout the process of immigration detention.

B.C., Alberta among eight provinces cancelling immigration detention contracts

Since July 2022, a total of eight provinces representing 95 per cent of Canada’s population have announced they would opt their jails out of the immigration detention system. This development follows years of intense advocacy by a broad coalition of human rights activists, civil society organizations and other experts.

“The movement of eight Canadian provinces to end their detention contracts should send a strong message to the federal government,” Nivyabandi said. “We must close the book on the policy of arbitrarily detaining migrants and refugees in Canada. No more extensions, no more delays.”

Take action now

Join Amnesty International Canada and Human Rights Watch in calling on Prime Minister Trudeau to immediately end immigration detention in jails across the country. Take action NOW on the #WelcomeToCanada campaign website!

Header photo: Katalena Alain/Amnesty International Canada