COVID-19 Measures at Immigration Holding Centres

Classification: Unclassified

Branch/Agency: IEB/CBSA

Proposed Response:

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The CBSA is working closely with the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) to prevent the spread of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). PHAC is responsible for advising the CBSA of any enhanced measures that must be implemented at the border to help prevent the introduction and spread of serious infectious diseases into Canada.

The situation has evolved rapidly and remains fluid. Currently, all international travellers arriving at Canadian ports of entry are subject to enhanced screening measures either through the electronic kiosks (Primary Inspection Kiosks, Automated Border Clearance or NEXUS kiosks), by a Border Services Officer (BSO) directly, or both.

BSOs are permitted, within their roles as screening officers under Quarantine Act, to ask a traveller any relevant question(s) and/or to request that the traveller present them with any information or record in the traveller's possession that would assist the BSO in making a determination on whether a traveller has, or might have, a communicable disease. BSOs are trained to observe and assess for signs of illness. If a traveller presents signs of a communicable disease, the Quarantine Act authorizes BSOs as screening officers to isolate the traveller and refer the individual to a PHAC Quarantine Officer for further assessment.

The above process applies to all individuals entering Canada who are admitted to one of our Immigration Holding Centres (IHCs) as well. In addition to this, all individuals who have an IRPA detention initiated at a POE are being instructed to wear a surgical mask during transport to a detention facility. CBSA has three IHCs located in Surrey, British Columbia, Laval, Quebec and Toronto, ON, and relies on provincial correctional facilities in other regions.

Upon arrival at an IHC, a COVID-19 medical screening form is completed for all new admissions, regardless of where detention was initiated (Inland or at a POE). Detainees who meet the PHAC recommendations for self-isolation are being placed in self isolation under the direction of our medical staff. All new intakes are being seen by our medical staff who then outline other preventative measures to the detainee.

In the interest of health and safety of the detained population, employees and the general public IHCs have suspended visits from the public with the exception of counsel, government designated representatives and interpreters until further notice. These specific individuals will be permitted to conduct non-contact visits where available and are expected to exercise safe distancing practices for contact visits. Other options are available to communicate with family and friends such as via telephone.

As always, should a detainee in CBSA care be seriously ill and in need of immediate medical attention, they would be referred to the appropriate local or emergency health authority for medical assessment without delay. This also applies to cases of persons arrested at inland locations within Canada.

In situations where the Immigration and Refugee Board determines the release of a detainee before the 14-day self-isolation period is complete, a Medical team will meet with the individual and provide them with directives for continuing their self-isolation, along with the same handout that is being provided in airports.

The CBSA will continue to engage with PHAC on any cases of suspected exposure to COVID-19. The CBSA is constantly reviewing its processes and procedures as events unfold.

The CBSA has three IHCs: one in Quebec, one in British Columbia, and one in Ontario. Immigration detention for inadmissible foreign nationals is a measure of last resort and used only in limited circumstances, such as where there are serious concerns about a danger to the public, where an individual is considered to be a flight risk or where their identity is under question. Officers must always consider alternatives to detention first. In provinces where there are no CBSA IHCs and/or the person presents a higher risk profile or is a public security risk, the CBSA relies on the use of provincial correctional facilities.

Amid COVID-19, scheduled removals have been cancelled until April 7, 2020 for all but those who want to leave voluntarily, as well as serious inadmissibility cases. The CBSA is continually reviewing the detainee population to determine if suitable alternatives are available. This includes in cases of those detained in provincial facilities.

In FY 2018-2019, the number of persons detained increased by 5.1% compared to the previous fiscal year. The increase is largely attributable to the constant surge of Mexican travellers since the visa requirement was lifted in December 2016, as well as to the persistent influx of irregular arrivals. Of the 8,781 persons detained in IHCs and provincial facilities in FY 2018-19, 47.2% were Mexican nationals and 6.1% had entered Canada between ports of entry. Consistent with the previous year, the largest proportion of persons detained (47%) were held for 24 hours or less. The proportion of persons detained vis-à-vis the number of entries by foreign nationals also remains consistent, representing 0.2%.

In accordance with the CBSA’s National Immigration Detention Framework and the National Directive for the Detention or Housing of Minors, 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. The constant decrease is attributed to the various measures put in place to ensure that the best interest of the child is always a primary consideration when decisions to detain an adult accompanied by a minor are made. As of March 23, 2020, there are no minors in detention. The CBSA is actively and continuously seeking alternatives to detention when unconditional release of the parent is inappropriate. In addition, other arrangements for the unaccompanied minors are sought, such as their placement under the care and protection of child welfare authorities or family members.


Prepared by: Sharon Spicer, Director, Inland Enforcement and Case Management, 613-513-7610

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

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