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CBSA-Red Cross monitoring contract a rebranded empty gesture says immigration detention watchdog

August 3, 2017

Toronto - An agreement between Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the Canadian Red Cross (CRC), announced last week to much government fanfare, is being described by opponents of Canada’s indefinite immigration detention regime as political spin and not a new development.

On July 27, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale announced the signing of a two-year, $1.14 million contract between the CBSA and the CRC, for the purpose of monitoring immigration detention across Canada. "[The partnership] will provide enhanced, trusted monitoring of immigration detention, strengthening its accountability and effectiveness," said Minister Goodale.

However, the CRC has been monitoring immigration detention under various agreements for nearly two decades. It makes recommendations to the CBSA which are non-binding and also not public. Fifteen people have died in CBSA custody since 2000, and critics have long called for the implementation of an independent oversight body.

"Given that the Red Cross is directly contracted by CBSA, it clearly does not fulfil the role of a publicly accountable monitoring body," said Kristen Lloyd of the End Immigration Detention Network, which has been working directly with detainees for four years. "Minister Goodale is playing a game of deception, presenting the status quo as change."

"There is no way for the public to know if the recommendations generated through the CRC’s monitoring are addressed or resolved by the CBSA or the ministry."

A confidential CRC report released to the Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act in January 2016 revealed that many of the organization’s findings from its annual inspection reports had yet to be addressed. Issues of access to mental health services, the use of maximum security provincial prisons, and the detention of minors were among the areas of particular concern to the Red Cross and at the heart of the 37 recommendations made in the report. Now, nearly two years since the report was finalized, these "urgent" issues have yet to be meaningfully addressed by CBSA and the federal government.

In June 2015, the CRC visited the Central East Correctional Center in Lindsay, Ontario where upwards of 100 immigration detainees have been held at any given time in recent years. CRC officials were not given access to nor allowed to speak with any immigration detainees. Shortly thereafter, the CBSA cancelled the CRC agreement in Ontario.

Last Thursday’s announcement said monitoring efforts will focus primarily on vulnerable individuals, including those with mental health issues. “People with mental health issues don’t need more frequent visits from Red Cross officials,” said Toronto psychiatrist Dr. Michaela Beder. “They need to be in the community where they can get appropriate care, and not in detention, where their mental health will worsen. We already know this.”

The Federal Court of Canada ruled last Tuesday that Canada's much-criticized practice of indefinite detention does not violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms after the CBSA was called on to justify its practice of long-term imprisonment of immigrants, including children and lifelong Canadian residents, in Brown v. Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. Both parties in the case, Brown and EIDN plan to appeal.

Canada is one of the few western countries without a time limit on detentions. Detainees, advocates, and the United Nations have all criticized the lack of fair judicial oversight in the federal system.

“The Canadian Red Cross has clearly not been an adequate oversight body for the past 20 years,” said EIDN legal representative MacDonald Scott. “There is nothing to say it will begin to be one now”.

"The federal government needs to step in and set a limit on immigration detention, with the goal of ending the practice of detaining migrants without charge or trial."

For more information contact:
Kristen Lloyd
End Immigration Detention Network
Phone: 705-868-0128

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