A graphic showing a map of Canada showing the eight provinces, the latest being Ontario, that have decided to cancel their immigration detention contracts with the Canada Border Services Agency.

Ontario win a ‘tipping point’ in movement against immigration detention

Ontario’s decision to stop holding migrants and refugees detained by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) in provincial jails is a momentous milestone in the movement against the injustice of immigration detention, Amnesty International Canada says.

The Ontario government notified Ottawa earlier this week that it has decided to cancel its immigration detention contract with the CBSA. With the decision now public, Ontario becomes at least the eighth province to have opted out of holding people detained by the CBSA in provincial jails on administrative immigration grounds.

“The movement to abolish immigration detention in provincial jails has reached a tipping point,” said Ketty Nivyabandi, Amnesty International Canada’s Secretary General. “Now, more than 95 per cent of Canada’s 40 million residents live in provinces that have said ‘no’ to holding migrants and refugees in the most restrictive confinement conditions in the Canadian system.”

Ontario decision on immigration sends a strong message to the federal government

Nivyabandi thanked the Ontario government for its decision and urged the federal government to follow suit. “Ontario’s decision this week sends a strong message to the federal government: jailing migrants and refugees for seeking a better life in Canada is inhumane and has no place in our country,” she said. “We call on Ottawa to respond by banning immigration detention in provincial jails Canada-wide. The federal government must also commit to removing this deplorable practice from Canada’s immigration and refugee-system altogether.”

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 practice 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 issues, also face discrimination throughout the process of immigration detention.

More investment needed into alternatives to immigration detention

Considering the harms and human rights violations that take place within immigration detention, Amnesty International Canada and Human Rights Watch have called on provinces and the federal government to immediately end immigration detention in provincial jails and to commit to a roadmap for the abolishment of all forms of immigration detention. And instead of transferring people across provinces to keep them detained as these immigration detention contracts end, CBSA should rely on localized, rights-respecting, community-based alternatives to detention.

“The federal government should invest in community-based organizations that provide compassionate support, including rights-respecting alternatives to detention,” said Samer Muscati, Associate Director of Disability Rights at Human Rights Watch, earlier this week. “And the government must ultimately end immigration detention across the country.”

Take action

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!