Immigrant detainees held in two facilities in southern Ontario began a hunger strike on July 11th, 2016; this was in support of their demand to end the practice of immigrants being held in maximum security prisons, and to also enforce a 90-day limit on immigrant detentions. The hunger strikers were demanding a meeting with Canada’s Public Security Minister, Ralph Goodale.
Over the last 14 days, several of the men began eating again, and according to a spokesperson for Ralph Goodale, there were just two men still on hunger strike yesterday.
Tracey Mann, a member of the End Immigration Detention Network, says the men have been under lockdown since Monday, July 25th, in an effort by the Canada Border Services Agency to break the hunger strike. It was also reported that water was temporarily denied to the strikers on Monday to force them to comply with the lockdown.Listen
Since 2007 the United Nations and other human rights organizations have been calling on Canada to improve the conditions of immigration detainees. A previous hunger strike in September of 2013 attempted to put the spotlight on conditions that included limited access to medical services, and very limited time outside their cells, with reports of people being confined in them 18 to 22 hours a day.
191 detainees took part in the 2013 hunger strike, in this recent attempt, between 40 and 50 people took part. There have also been increasing reports of detainees dying in custody: some of suicide and others reportedly due to the use of excess force.
Tracey Mann says the plight of immigration detainees has been forgotten by policy makers. She says the men have not been charged with any criminal offense, and for the most part they are lacking documentation to move forward on immigration or asylum claims.
Tracey Mann says the indefinite detention, in such harsh conditions, is an ongoing violation of human rights. “When we look at the discourse of human rights that’s used so freely by the Liberals to distinguish themselves from the Conservatives, there actually is no substantive changes being made.”
“Working Toward a Better, Fairer, Immigration Detention System”
However, in an article published in the Huffington Post on July 19, 2016, under the title, “Working Toward a Better, Fairer, Immigration Detention System”, Ralph Goodale addressed many of the network’s concerns and outlined the changes to be made in the future. In the piece he stated the ministry’s objectives as follows:
- To increase the availability of effective alternatives to detention and thus reduce the overall number of cases in which detention is the only technique that can be used to deal with difficult problems of identification, flight risk or danger to the public;
- To reduce the use of provincial jails for immigration detention by making safe, higher quality, federally-operated facilities – specifically designed for immigration purposes – more readily accessible, thus avoiding as much as we can the intermingling of immigration/refugee cases with criminal elements;
- To try to avoid housing children in detention facilities, as much as humanly possible;
- To enhance the health, mental health and other human services available to those detained;
- To maintain open access to detention facilities for agencies such as the UNHCR, the Canadian Red Cross, legal and spiritual advisers and others who provide support and counselling; and
- To achieve greater transparency, including effective independent scrutiny and review of all CBSA operations and proper responses to any specific complaints about officers or facilities.
Goodale ended the piece with the proviso that money will be necessary to move forward. He wrote, “In my discussions with CBSA’s leadership, I am finding a genuine desire to move forward in these better directions. To do so, the ideological limitations of the past 10 years are being left behind, but we’ll have to find incremental funding for necessary capital improvements and better services.”
And he concludes with, “Work is underway to get these changes – real changes – launched. I hope to make specific announcements in the near future.”