And recent decisions of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB), the administrative tribunal that presides over immigration and refugee matters, show how the fears about COVID-19 play out. important role in certain decisions to release immigration detainees.
As of March 17, 353 immigration detainees were being held in provincial jails and immigration detention centers across Canada, according to data from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).
By April 19, that number had dropped by more than half to 147 inmates, 117 of whom were held in provincial jails. The remaining 30 were detained in one of three Canadian immigration detention centers located in Toronto, Laval, Quebec, and Surrey, British Columbia.
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READ MORE: The number of inmates detained in Canada’s immigration detention centers is decreasing due to fears related to COVID-19
“We would never normally see such a dramatic drop in detention (detainees) in such a short time. This is unprecedented, “said Swathi Sekhar, a Toronto-based immigration and refugee lawyer.
A number of legal and advocacy groups have called for the release of immigration detainees and those detained in prisons and prisons that are not considered to be a public security risk due to the increasing number of cases COVID-19 in these establishments and the conditions prevailing there. it is difficult to isolate and control the spread of the infection.
The majority of immigration detainees in prisons are in Ontario, dealing with COVID-19 cases in its correctional facilities. Thousands of detainees in Ontario prisons have been released in the past few weeks as the province struggles with the outbreak.
As of April 19, 33 of 117 immigration detainees held in provincial jails were held at the Maplehurst Correctional Complex in Milton, a combined maximum security prison for remand prisoners and a medium / maximum security prison for convicts serving a sentence of less than two years.
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Foreigners and permanent residents can be detained – sometimes indefinitely – by the CBSA officers if the person is considered unlikely to appear for immigration proceedings such as a hearing, if the person is considered to be a threat to public safety or if their identity is questioned. Most detainees are detained on the grounds that they are unlikely to appear for prosecution or because of questions about their identity.
Immigration detainees are detained for administrative, not criminal, reasons like a typical detainee. Immigration detainees can be detained in one of Canada’s three immigration detention centers, which resemble medium-security prisons, or in provincial prisons across the country, depending on the circumstances of their case, or s ‘There is no immigration detention center in this part of the country.
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Last month, the Canadian government issued an emergency order under the Quarantine Act that forbidden entry by individuals in Canada for the purpose of seeking refugee protection.
” This new order has reduced the number of refugee claimants residing in Canada or detained, “a CBSA spokesperson said in an email. “In addition, given that many of our admissions to (immigration detention centers) or provincial facilities are directly related to the volume of travelers, it is not surprising to see the total number of admissions decrease.”
READ MORE: Coronavirus fears prompt calls for release of migrants from British Columbia detention center
Recent detention review decisions provided to Global News by the IRB show how COVID-19 is taken into account in determining whether or not to release a person from detention of migrants.
A decision by the IRB on April 3 concerns a Colombian detained at the Toronto detention center since January 23 because he was considered to be a danger to the public and unlikely to appear on his return from Canada to Colombia. However, he was released on bail largely because of the risk of being exposed to COVID-19 while in detention. He was ordered to comply with a number of strict conditions in the context of his release.
IRB decision maker Jacqueline Swaisland said the man, Angelo Rincon, has a history of non-compliance with immigration laws “at least in three countries” and has also violated criminal laws in Canada and the United States. This includes a conviction for possession of a controlled substance for sale, another conviction related to a number of break and enter last year in the Greater Toronto Area and possession of property obtained by crime.
The decision maker said that even though Rincon was considered a danger to the public because of his criminal history, “I find that the danger you represent is at the bottom of the ladder” because of the limited sentences he had received for his convictions. , his “sworn affidavits” and “the fact that there was no violence in the commission of any of the offenses in which you have been involved …”
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To determine whether to release Rincon from detention, Swaisland said that Rincon had already been detained for more than two months, which is in his favor, and “regarding the expected length of detention [it’s] agreed by all parties that at this point it is unknown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “
“And that could be long since Canada does not currently apply removals and since Colombia does not allow the repatriation even of its own nationals and we do not know how long it will last given the pandemic COVID-19, ”said Swaisland.
Last month, the CBSA temporarily interrupted deportations of persons whose asylum or immigration applications have been refused, with the exception of serious criminal cases which will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
The decision then notes that Rincon’s lawyer has provided “significant documentation” on the risks a person in detention faces and his own fears related to his potential exposure to the virus in the institution due to an under-developed condition. underlying. TVO reported last month that a Toronto detention center worker had contracted COVID-19 and isolated himself.
“I find that the risks you face are not at the same level of prisoners in correctional facilities (in particular) given that there are such a limited number of prisoners currently housed in the immigration detention center, 15 to this day and in view of the important measures are being taken to reduce the risks for those currently detained in the detention center “, specifies the Rincon decision.
“(But) even if the immigration detention center takes important precautions, they are not perfect. And you still have a high risk of exposure and significant restrictions on your ability to self-isolate in a way that documentary evidence seems to suggest who is required with this virus. “
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COVID-19 is also cited in a March 30, IRB decision involving a Chilean woman who has been detained at the Toronto detention center since March 17, as it was unlikely that she would appear for immigration proceedings. The decision states that the woman can be released as long as she meets a number of conditions, including living in a shelter and reporting regularly to the CBSA.
Her identity and some details of the decision have been removed because she has a pending refugee claim, which is subject to the rules of confidentiality. The decision notes that the woman’s refugee claim is pending for the moment, and the procedure will resume “once the pandemic is resolved and the Immigration and Refugee Board will resume hearing and processing the claims” .
“You are now waiting for your (refugee) hearing which, under normal circumstances, can be a long process and everything is now delayed due to the pandemic,” the decision maker, Julia Huys, told the woman.
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Huys goes on to describe the high risk of inmate COVID-19 exposure.
“I note that conditions in the immigration detention center may be better than in provincial prisons, but I find them only slightly,” said Huys.
“Thus, detainees will come into contact with many other people, including detainees, other detainees, guards, staff and movements of people entering and leaving … the immigration detention center. And I also take very seriously the fact that there is now a case of COVID-19 at the immigration detention center with one of the staff members. “
An IRB spokesperson said in an email to Global News that he was “open to decision-makers to take into account all relevant factors in determining whether detention is justified, including COVID-19 and its potential risks for detained persons “.
The IRB also noted that its immigration division “receives requests from the parties for early reviews of detention, for example to consider alternatives when the detained person may have a vulnerability that puts them at high risk for viruses or any other case with an alternative to detention. ”
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you should know:
Health authorities warn against all international travel. Return travelers are legally required to self-isolate for 14 days, starting March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent the spread of the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to provide self-isolation for people returning to the region.
Symptoms may include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing – very similar to a cold or the flu. Some people may develop a more serious illness. Those most at risk are the elderly and people with serious chronic conditions such as heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend washing your hands frequently and coughing up your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying at home as much as possible, and keeping two meters away from others if you go out.
For full COVID-19 coverage by Global News, click here.
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