Canada Border Services Agency--Treatment of Asylum Seekers

June 23, 2021

Honourable senators, my question is for the Government Representative in the Senate.

Senator Gold, a recent article published in the Montreal Gazette, drawing on a report jointly released by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, contained highly concerning descriptions of detainment and incarceration of some asylum seekers in Canada. According to the joint report, some people fleeing persecution and seeking protection are “. . . regularly handcuffed, shackled, and held with little to no contact with the outside world.”

Apparently, close to 9,000 persons were so incarcerated between April 2019 and March 2020, including 73 children under age 6. The article notes many of these persons are held in provincial jails and are often subjected to solitary confinement.

Senator Gold, are you aware of this report and who these persons being incarcerated are? As well, on what grounds are they being incarcerated? What is being done to meet their health and mental health needs while they are incarcerated and following their release?

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate) [ + ]

Thank you very much for your question, senator. The government is aware of the situation and is aware of the report to which I believe you were referring and thanks Amnesty International for that report. We will thoroughly review their recommendations and findings.

I don’t have some of the information that you requested at hand, but I would like to offer the following observations on behalf of the government: Immigration detention generally is considered a measure of last resort. It is only used in limited circumstances, for example, where there are serious concerns about a danger to the public, a flight risk or questions of a person’s identity.

In that regard, I’ve been further advised that the government has made significant progress in implementing core elements of the National Immigration Detention Framework, which was launched in 2016, for example, introducing a ministerial directive in 2017 to stop detaining or housing of minors as much as is humanly possible; ensuring that alternatives to detention are always considered first; introducing a formalized monitoring program in 2017 with the Canadian Red Cross; expanding health services and overall conditions in immigration holding centres; and reducing reliance on provincial facilities, which you correctly note are often the places where people are detained.

There’s much more work to do, but I will conclude by citing the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, who said that “by and large, the Canadian system remains exemplary, worldwide.”

Thank you very much for that, Senator Gold. I look forward to getting some of the specifics from you in the future.

I also want to note that the spokesperson for the Canadian Border Services Agency was quoted in the article saying that they are aware of the report, yet it is not clear what the CBSA is doing, specifically, to address these concerns.

There have been continued calls for independent civilian oversight of CBSA, which can be necessary for ensuring better adherence to human rights and humane treatment of those with whom it interacts.

What action, Senator Gold, is the Minister of Public Safety taking at this time to ensure that civilian oversight is created for and applied to the Canadian Border Services Agency?

Senator Gold [ + ]

Thank you for your question, senator. The government remains committed to ensuring Canadians have trust and confidence in the border services they receive, and indeed, while the vast majority of Canadian border service officers perform their jobs honourably and admirably, the government knows that there are instances where their conduct has been and will be questioned. When that happens, it is critical that such complaints are handled and examined fairly and impartially.

In that regard, the government remains committed to closing the gap in Canada’s national security agencies and bringing external review to the Canadian Border Services Agency.

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