Minors in Canada’s Immigration Detention System

Classification: Unclassified

Branch/Agency: I&E/CBSA

Proposed Response:

If pressed:


The detention of a minor under Section A55 of the Immigration Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) is exceptional and a measure of last resort. A detained minor has access to the same legislative scheme under the IRPA that any other foreign national or permanent resident would have and the Federal Court is a bona fide option for recourse related to any immigration proceeding.

The vast majority of minors at CBSA Immigration Holding Centres (IHCs) are being “housed” with their parent(s) at the request of the parent(s), which has been determined to be in their best interests. Minors being “housed” have the ability to leave the facility at any point in time with the parent(s) consent.

The CBSA does not separate a minor from their parent unless it is in the best interest of the child (e.g. for their health and safety) and every effort is made to preserve the family unit by finding a reasonable and appropriate alternative to detention or alternative arrangement (for non-detained/housed minors). Where this is not possible and a parent is held in detention, a non-detained child may be “housed” at an Immigration Holding Centre (IHC) with the parent upon the parent’s request and consent.

Where a minor is housed or detained, the CBSA ensures that they have the proper access to programs and services. In accordance with international obligations: minors have access to health care services (e.g. nurse, doctor, psychology and psychiatric supports); outdoor and indoor recreation, which includes a play/game room with toys, books, board games, and proper nutrition (which aligns with Canada’s Food Guide) that also caters to special dietary needs (food allergies, halal diet, etc.). Families have separate living and sleeping quarters, washroom and laundry facilities and the IHC readily provides cribs, diapers and other products as needed. Minors that are in IHC facilities for periods in excess of seven (7) days are provided with educational programming.

CBSA officers have a breadth of experience in interviews to determine the needs of a minor enshrined in the IRPA and in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations. At first contact (with a minor), a detailed report is completed by the officer that includes a Best Interest of a Child (BIOC) assessment. This includes consideration of, on a case by case basis, personal information, a case synopsis, measures that may mitigate detention, and all Alternatives to Detention (ATDs).

On August 15, 2016, the Government of Canada committed up to $138 million to transform Canada’s immigration detention system by investing in IHCs, expanding ATDs and partnerships, and increasing transparency. New and retrofitted IHCs in Surrey and Toronto are scheduled to open in early 2020, and a new IHC in Laval is expected to be completed by fall 2021.

The CBSA’s National Directive for the Detention or Housing of Minors (ND), issued following the Ministerial Direction in 2017, was developed through extensive consultation with key partners, such as the Canadian Council for Refugees, the University of Toronto, the Canadian Red Cross Society and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

Fewer minors were detained or housed with parents or guardians in 2018-2019 (118). This represents a 21.9% decrease compared to 2017-2018 (151) and a 49.1% drop over the past five years (232 in 2014-2015). In 2018-2019, 61% of the minors housed or detained were accompanying a parent/guardian detained on grounds of identity. This can generally be attributed to a constant flow of individuals entering Canada between ports of entry and who may not possess identity documents.

Quebec region held the majority of minors in FY 2018-2019 (107 minors/91%) of which 10 were detained and 97 housed with a parent or guardian. This is attributable to minors arriving irregularly between ports of entry in Quebec.

In November 2019, the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) published a report critical of the CBSA’s efforts to improve the housing or detention of minors in accordance with the 2017 National Directive. This report is based on 2018-19 statistics and presents anecdotes of children or parents in detention or separated from their families. It calls out the fact that over 91% of all children housed or detained are in the Quebec region, with parents/guardians who are being detained for identity purposes. The CBSA has not provided a formal response to this report, but acknowledges the report and the important relationship it has with the CCR. The higher number of irregular arrivals in Quebec arriving between ports of entry without identity documents coupled with serious credibility concerns can be directly linked to the increased detention or housing of minors in Quebec.  In 2018-19 from all the irregular arrivals across Canada, 91% entered between the ports of entry in Quebec (Roxham Rd).  Of these arrivals, only 2% were detained of which approximately 62% were detained for identity purposes. This phenomenon is not occurring to the same extent elsewhere in Canada.

Detention statistics for the years 2012-2019 relating to accompanied and unaccompanied minors are posted publicly on the CBSA website: https://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/security-securite/detent/stat-2012-2019-eng.html.


Prepared by: Aileen Girouard, Senior Program Advisor, 613-948-9743/613-769-4687

Approved by: Jacques Cloutier , Vice-President, Intelligence and Enforcement Branch, 613-948-4111

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