Number of immigration detainees drops by more than half amid COVID-19 spread
OTTAWA -- The number of immigration detainees held at provincial correctional facilities and immigration holding centres amid the COVID-19 pandemic has been reduced by more than half over the course of the last month.
According to Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) data, since March 15 the total number of detainees dropped from 333 to 127 by April 28.
In March, the highest number of detainees were at the Toronto Immigration Holding Centre housing where 78 people were being kept. This was followed by the holding centre in Laval, Que. with 62, and the Maplehurst Correctional Complex in Milton, Ont. with 53.
By the end of April, Maplehurst became the top accommodation for immigration detainees lodging 24, followed by Central East Correctional Center in Lindsay, Ont. with 16, and Rivieres-Des-Prairies Detention Centre in Montreal with 15.
The government has faced mounting pressure to provide early release to certain inmates and immigration detainees who pose little risk to public safety as health authorities have cautioned that living conditions within these facilities are conducive to easy transmission of novel coronavirus.
Health-care resources are also limited within both jails and holding facilities in managing active cases.
More than 280 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 across Canada, with the largest count in Quebec. Public Safety Minister Bill Blair has repeated that he remains in close contact with the CBSA and the Parole Board of Canada to accelerate the release of certain inmates and detainees.
The dire situation has led a handful of immigrants at the Laval Immigration Holding Centre to launch a hunger strike in hopes of expediting their release.
Several Canadian rights organizations have expressed support for the four strikers. They noted that measures recommended by the government, such as social distancing, did not take into account the reality of detainees - whether in immigration holding centres, juvenile detention centres or prisons.
Human Rights Watch and Solidarity Across Borders has sought to raise awareness of the situation in Quebec, demanding action from government officials. Amnesty International has called on the global release of immigration detainees.
"Detaining anyone solely for migration-related reasons during a global pandemic is cruel, reckless and deadly," reads a press release by the organization in early April.
In late March, the federal government closed all non-essential travel between the U.S. and Canada. In addition to placing a ban on recreational travel and tourism, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the provision also includes prohibiting refuge of irregular migrants.
Amnesty International also expressed disappointment with this decision.
"Some claimants seeking to enter Canada have already been turned back to an uncertain fate in the U.S., potentially in violation of Canada’s international legal obligations under the Refugee Convention and the Convention Against Torture."
With a file from The Canadian Press