British Columbia decided that rather than be second in the race to the bottom, it would prefer to be first in the pursuit of justice

#WelcomeToCanada

On Thursday, July 21, 2022, British Columbia’s Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, Mike Farnworth announced that the province will end its immigration detention contract with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). The province would no longer hold immigrant detainees in provincial jails. Minister Farnworth explained, “In the fall of 2021, I committed to a review of BC Corrections’ arrangement with the CBSA on holding immigration detainees in provincial correctional centres. This review examined all aspects of the arrangement, including its effect on public safety and whether it aligns with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and expectations set by Canadian courts …. The review brought to light that aspects of the arrangement do not align with our government’s commitment to upholding human-rights standards or our dedication to pursuing social justice and equity for everyone.”

Part of the impetus for the provincial review came from a joint Human Rights – Amnesty campaign, #WelcomeToCanada, launched last year, on June 20, World Refugee Day. At the launch, the campaign noted, “Between April 2019 and March 2020, Canada locked up 8,825 people between the ages of 15 and 83, including 1,932 in provincial jails. In the same period, another 136 children were `housed in detention to avoid separating them from their detained parents, including 73 under age 6 … Since 2016, Canada has held more than 300 immigration detainees for longer than a year.”

This week, Ketty Nivyabandi, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada (English Speaking), said, “Today’s decision is a momentous step. We commend British Columbia on being the first province to stop locking up refugee claimants and migrants in its jails solely on immigration grounds. This is a true human rights victory, one which upholds the dignity and rights of people who come to Canada in search of safety or a better life.”

Kasari Govender, British Columbia’s current and first independent Human Rights Commissioner, added, “Detaining innocent migrants in jails is cruel, unjust and violates human rights commitments. CBSA may still hold migrants in a detention centre, but this a significant first step towards affirming the human rights of detainees. Now, it is up to the federal government to abolish all migrant detention and expand the use of community-based alternatives that support individuals.”

The decision is momentous, landmark, in a number of ways. In and of itself, it marks the first province to stop the brutal practice, and to do so in the name of human rights, social justice and equity. Additionally, until now, British Columbia is a leader in the incarceration of immigrants. From 2019 to 2020, 22% of detained immigrants were held in provincial jails. Then Covid hit. The number of people held in 2020 – 2021 dropped to 1605, of whom 40% were held in provincial jails. In the two years under review, only Ontario exceeded British Columbia in the incarceration of immigrants, asylum seekers, refugees. This week, British Columbia decided that rather than be second in the race to the bottom, it would prefer to be first in the pursuit of justice.

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Amnesty International Canada)