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Lawyers, Activists Urge Ontario Courts to Step in on Immigration Detention
March 26, 2015Press Briefing
2pm, Thursday, March 26, 2015
Outside the Ontario Court of Appeals, 130 Queen St. West
Toronto - An innovative legal challenge is trying to force the Federal government to justify imprisonment of immigrants in a provincial court for the first time. The End Immigration Detention Network and lawyers for two long-term immigration detainees will be asking the Ontario Court of Appeals on Thursday, March 26th, 2015 to step in on endless immigration detention.
Lawyers for Ms Glory Anawa, a 29 year old mother, Alpha Ochigbo, her 18 month old Canadian born baby (imprisoned in immigration jail since birth) and Mr Michael Mvogo who has been jailed for 9 years in Canada appeared before the Ontario Superior Court on December 15, 2014 (Glory's 29th birthday) seeking their release under the Habeas Corpus Act and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This special application requires the Ontario Court first determine if it has jurisdiction over immigration detentions before proceeding to hear the merits of the case. Earlier this month, the Ontario Court declined to assert jurisdiction. Lawyers for Ms Anawa and Mr Mvogo are now filing an appeal.
"A year ago, nearly 200 migrants went on hunger strike to protest immigration jails that tear them away from their families and community. Six months ago, we proved without a shadow of doubt that the legal system that oversees immigration detention has failed to stop cruel and indefinite detentions. Yet nothing has changed," explains Syed Hussan, community organizer with the End Immigration Detention Network.
"The Court's refusal to assert jurisdiction allows this injustice to continue, but we never expected a legal resolution. This is a political problem and requires a political solution. Imprisoned immigrants and their supporters are demanding immediate justice. Its time for Canada to end immigration detention, and for Ontario to stop supporting federal anti-immigrant laws."
Of the 7,373 immigrants jailed in Canada in 2013, 4,574 (62%) were held in Ontario, many of them in provincial prisons. Since September 2013, nearly 200 migrants have been on a protest-strike in a maximum security prison in Lindsay, ON. Detainees have gone on hunger strikes and fasts, refused to attend their detention hearings and organized against lock-downs. Formed to support these detainees, the End Immigration Detention Network (EIDN) is organizing for an end to immigration detention, and in the meantime is calling for a 90-day limit on detentions pending deportation, an overhaul of the detention review process and an end to the jailing of migrants in maximum security jails.
"I've been robbed of my life. Alpha and I just live every day, one day at a time," said Glory Anawa from the Toronto Immigration Holding Centre. "I don't know how my baby will react on the outside, this is the only place he knows. He sees security guards everywhere, searching people. I don't know what it is doing to him. I just want this nightmare to be over. No one deserves to be locked up like us."
Swathi Sekhar, Counsel for Glory Anawa added, "CBSA is unable to gain documents for my client's removal, yet it insists on jailing her and her 16 month old baby for more than 2 years now. There are untold numbers of migrants imprisoned in Canada indefinitely in a similar situation. We are calling for Ms Anawa's release and the establishment of a limit on indefinite detention. Allowing this appeal to go forward is in the public's interest."
Jean Vecina, lawyer for Mr Mvogo adds, "Canada is a rogue state which refuses to follow international law. Mr Mvogo must be released as per the United Nations opinion issued in his case. This legal challenge opens the door to justice to migrants and gives Mr Mvogo a real chance at freedom. We expect further such challenges in provincial courts across the country, and hope that legislative change follows swiftly after."
What is the Migrant Strike and End Immigration Detention Network?
In September 2013, nearly 191 migrants went on hunger strike inside the Central East Correctional Centre (Lindsay, ON) to demand an end to indefinite detention, an end to their imprisonment in maximum security prisons, and overhaul of the immigration detention judicial oversight system. Two detainees stayed on hunger strike for 65 days.
Since then migrants have boycotted their detention reviews, refused to go in to their cells and held one-days fasts.
The End Immigration Detention Network (EIDN) was formed to support the Migrant Strike.
Since September 2013, EIDN has organized over a dozen protests, direct actions, and Border Agency office occupations.
EIDN runs a free phone line for detainees 4 days a week and coordinates support.
Glory Anawa (Counsel: Swathi Sekhar)
Cameroonian citizen, born December 15th 1985. The jurisdictional hearing
was on her 29th birthday.
Came to Canada in February 2013 to make a refugee claim, was detained on arrival and has been detained since. Withdrew her refugee application on incorrect legal advice.
Gave birth to Alpha Ochigbo on August 15, 2013. Alpha has spent every day of his life in prison.
Cameroon has made it clear that they do not accept her identity and will not issue her a travel document, and therefore she cannot be removed.
Michael Mvogo (Counsel: Jean Vecina and Macdonald Scott)
Cameroonian citizen, came to Canada in 2005 as a visitor.
Has been in immigration detention since September 2006.
In April 2014, the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights issued an opinion that Mr Mvogo's detention is illegal under international law.
Canada has not followed the United Nations opinion and continues to detain him.
Immigration Detention - Quick facts
* 7,373 migrants were jailed in Canada in 2013 for a combined total of 183, 928 days or over 503 years in prison.
* 4,574 of them (62%) were jailed in Ontario.
* Migrants are jailed in 142 facilities, 3 of which are medium security federal facilities, and the rest are maximum security provincial prisons.
* Average length of detention in 2009-2013 was 10 days in Pacific Canada, and 38 days in Northern Ontario.
* In June 2014, Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) claimed that 145 detainees had been imprisoned for over 6 months.
LEGAL SYSTEM GOVERNING IMMIGRATION DETENTION & THE CURRENT CASES - QUICK FACTS
As there are no charges in immigration detention, there is no trial.
Each month, detainees appear in front of a Board Member who decides whether they should be detained for another month. Mr Mvogo has had over 100 such hearings. At these hearings, the detained person or their counsel must prove there are "compelling reasons" why they should be released.
If a detainee is not released at these hearings, called a Detention Review, they cannot appeal. Instead, they can request the Federal Court to conduct a Judicial Review. This request is rarely granted.
Judicial Reviews only consider if the law was followed in the Detention Review, and not the fact of the case. Based on prior case law, most detainees lose their Judicial Review. If detainees win at Judicial Review, they are not released, instead another Detention Review is held.
Our report, Truth About Detention, found that Detention Review decisions vary wildly.
By Board Member: Board Members release rates varied between 5% and 38%.
By Region: Average release rates were 27% in Western Canada, 24% in Eastern Canada, and 9% in Central Canada. Ontario falls under Central Canada.
The release rate in the Central Region has dropped significantly from 21% in 2008 to 8.7% in 2013.
The current legal application is seeking an urgent writ of habeas corpus with certiorari in aid. Lawyers for Mr Mvogo and Ms Anawa are seeking an order for their release and a limit on detentions pending deportation.
For more information contact:
End Immigration Detention Network
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