The first-ever audit of how Canada reviews immigration detention cases reveals a system that unfairly keeps people behind bars for months on end due to ill-informed adjudicators and incarceration.
The findings including decision-making based on inaccurate information, unchallenged faith in border enforcement officials and inadequate legal representation for detainees, have shocked even the most seasoned critics and rights advocates.
Janet Dench of the Canadian Council for Refugees said, “Non-citizens have a right to liberty and to be protected from cruel and unusual treatment, but as this report shows, this right is routinely flouted under immigration legislation.”
Last year, 3,557 people were held in immigration detention in Canada, out of which in 80 cases people were held for more than a year behind bars.
Last year, an independent investigation found an immigration detention system that indefinitely warehouses non-citizens, away from public scrutiny and in conditions intended for a criminal population, with hundreds of unwanted immigrants left to languish behind bars.
The longest serving immigration detainee, Ebrahim Toure, 46, is a failed refugee claimant, who has been detained for five years pending deportation to Gambia.
The audit into the fairness of long-term detention reviews at the Immigration and Refugee Board found that last year, 13 per cent of all detainees were held because they were deemed a danger to the public, while 77 per cent were detained because officials feared they were a flight risk, while the rest were detained because of an inability to confirm their identity.
“In many of the decisions reviewed, the assumption seemed to be that any risk was enough risk. As long as there was a chance that the person might not appear, that justified detention. As long as there was a chance that the person would commit another theft, that justified continued detention,” concluded the audit, conducted by Katherine Laird, an adjudicator and mediator with the Social Justice Tribunals of Ontario, a group of eight tribunals that includes the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, Social Benefits Tribunal and the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board.
“At times, it seemed like the (immigration tribunal) had its own ‘dangerous offender designation,’ (allowing them to be held indefinitely) without any of the safeguards of that process in the criminal justice system,” said the report.
The independent audit reviewed 312 detention hearings for 18 immigration detainees whose files were closed between April 2016 and August 2017. The detainees involved had all been held for at least 100 days.
Generally, each immigration detainee is eligible for a detention hearing 48 hours after their arrest, followed by a seven-day and 30-day review if an immigration division adjudicator rules the detention should continue.