COVID-19 Measures at Immigration Holding Centres
Date: August 12, 2020
Fully releasable (ATIP)? Yes
Branch / Agency: IEB/CBSA
- The health and well-being of CBSA staff, contracted workers in Immigration Holding Centers, detainees, and the general public remains paramount.
- We are actively working with the Public Health Agency of Canada, as well as contracted medical personnel, to develop, implement and maintain measures to limit and mitigate the potential spread of COVID-19 within our facilities and ensure that detention is carried out in a manner that is safe and secure for all.
- Immigration detention has always been a measure of last resort, used only in limited circumstances, and only after alternatives to detention are first considered.
- The CBSA continues to review its detention population to ensure that volumes remain at a minimum and that all options for release are explored for cases where an individual’s risk can be managed in the community.
- By leveraging alternatives to detention and by working with the Immigration and Refugee Board, the detention population has significantly declined from 353 persons on March 17, 2020 to 137 persons as of July 29, 2020.
- The three Immigration Holding Centres have a combined total of almost 400 beds. Of the 137 individuals in the detention population, 25% are in Immigration Holding Centres, 72% in provincial facilities, and 3% are in other facilities.
- The decision to release an individual from detention is done on a case by case basis; detention will be continued for those persons who pose a greater risk to public safety.
- If a detainee is symptomatic, on-site medical staff issue instruction on what is required from a medical perspective. 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 could include transfer to a hospital if required.
- As of July 31, 2020, there were two detainees who were subject to self-isolation at the Immigration Holding Centre in Laval, three at the Immigration Holding Centre in Toronto, and two detainees required to self-isolate at the Immigration Holding Centre in Surrey.
- There are currently no confirmed COVID-19 cases at any Immigration Holding Centre. To date, there have been ten confirmed COVID-19 cases within Immigration Holding Centres.
- The CBSA also continues to work collaboratively with its provincial partners on measures aimed at ensuring the safety and security of CBSA detainees who are being detained in provincial facilities.
If pressed on possible death in custody:
- In the event that the death of a person in custody should arise from COVID-19, the CBSA would strive to release as much information as possible, while respecting privacy legislation and the wishes of any affected family members.
- The CBSA takes the matter of a death in custody seriously. In all cases involving a death of an individual detained under the IRPA, the police and the coroner are notified. The CBSA reviews all circumstances of the incident and cooperates with the investigative bodies and provincial authorities.
If pressed on minors in detention:
- The best interest of the child is always a primary consideration. The CBSA actively and continuously seeks alternatives to detention, such as placement with family members, when the release of a parent/legal guardian is not appropriate.
- When a minor is housed or detained, the CBSA ensures that they have the proper access to programs and services, including access to health care services, outdoor and indoor recreation, and proper nutrition that caters to special dietary needs. Minors that are in Immigration Holding Centres for periods in excess of seven days are provided with educational programming.
- The CBSA continues to work to reduce the number of detainees, including adults with minor children, through its expanded suite of Alternatives to Detention.
- As of July 29, 2020 no minors were housed or detained at any CBSA Immigration Holding Centres.
If pressed on the Federal Court Decision on Immigration Detention:
- A decision was recently made by the Federal Court of Appeal which found that continued detention under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act is no longer possible if there is no nexus between detention and an immigration purpose.
- As the decision was just rendered, the Agency is currently assessing what impact it will have on its operations.
On April 19, 2020, coordinated, non-violent protests occurred outside all three CBSA IHCs. In an article published by Global News, these protests called for the release of immigration detainees in light of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Institutions, such as IHCs, are being criticized for their inability to provide acceptable medical treatment in addition to facilitate self-isolation/social distancing. On May 17, 2020, another protest was held outside of the IHC in Laval to denounce the use of electronic tracking bracelets on migrants upon their release.
The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) works to ensure that it is exercising responsibility for detentions to the highest possible standards, with the physical and mental health and well-being of detainees as well as the safety and security of Canadians as primary considerations. Detainee rights are guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms; individuals who are detained for immigration purposes are protected from arbitrary arrest and detention and have access to effective remedies.
CBSA officers detain foreign nationals and permanent residents when there are reasonable grounds to believe the person is inadmissible to Canada and is:
- a danger to the public;
- unlikely to appear (flight risk) for immigration processes;
- unable to satisfy the officer of their identity (foreign nationals only);
- upon entry, to complete an immigration examination; or,
- has been designated as part of an irregular arrival by the Minister of Public Safety (16 years of age or older only).
CBSA officers may also detain foreign nationals and permanent residents at a port of entry where there are reasonable grounds to suspect the individual is inadmissible due to security grounds, human rights violations or criminality. Immigration detention is administrative; exercised to ensure the integrity of the immigration system and public safety. Detention is a last resort and officers must always consider alternatives. 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.
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.
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 Immigration Holding Centres (IHCs) located in Surrey, British Columbia, Laval, Quebec and Toronto, ON, and relies on provincial correctional facilities in other regions.
In light of the novel coronavirus pandemic, temporary measures have been implemented to further mitigate the risks to more vulnerable detainees and limit the use of detention as much as possible. With the goal of minimizing the risk of introducing and spreading COVID-19 to CBSA facilities, the CBSA has:
- restricted access to IHC facilities to those performing critical services, such as health/mental health services (including doctors and nurses on staff 24 hours, 7 days per week), security services, food services, cleaning services and, when applicable, legal services;
- enhanced hygiene measures for persons authorized to enter the IHCs;
- undertaken additional measures to completely sanitize spaces and facilities for detainees and staff.
- increased the frequency of cleaning bathrooms, rooms, common areas and lobbies in IHCs;
- implemented mandatory use of personal protective equipment at all times for those working at CBSA facilities in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19;
- mandated that staff, contracted staff, and detainees currently adhere to social distancing at all times, as recommended by health authorities, unless exceptional situations arise.
- introduced two time slots for each meal at IHCs to facilitate social distancing;
- set up teleconferencing services to avoid the need for detainees to travel (for example, hearings and/or detention reviews);
- discontinued personal visits until further notice, except for legal advisors, designated government representatives and interpreters;
- improved access to telephones as well as allowing for free long-distance calling, where possible, in order to maintain connections with support systems at this difficult time;
- implemented enhanced medical oversight of detainees;
- began conducting twice daily temperature checks in the Toronto IHC;
- implemented a Covid-19 medical screening form for all new IHC admissions;
- been working with the Immigration and Refugee Board to ensure detention reviews are being held via telephone or videoconference to the greatest extent possible.
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 also continues to work with its provincial partners on measures to ensure the safety and security of CBSA detainees who are being detained in provincial facilities.
Since November 2016, the CBSA has been posting statistics related to immigration detention online at http://cbsa.gc.ca/security-securite/detent-stat-eng.html.
As of July 29, 2020 there were 137 individuals in immigration detention, a reduction of 61% from 353 detainees on March 17, 2020 when border restrictions were imposed. On this same date, 25% were in Immigration Holding Centres, 72% in a provincial facility, and 3% in other facilities.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the CBSA has made a concentrated effort to ensure the volume of detained persons remains at a minimum. On July 17th, the CBSA saw it’s highest number of detainees since these efforts commenced at 141 persons. Over the last month, the majority of new detention admissions can be attributed to the CBSA responding to referrals from a partner law enforcement agency. On July 29, 2020, 50% of new arrests resulted from referrals from a partner law enforcement agency. Of these new admissions, 40% of individuals were the subject of an Immigration warrant.
Minors in Detention
The CBSA does not separate a minor from their parent/legal guardian 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 the parent/legal guardian is held in detention, a non-detained child may be “housed” at an Immigration Holding Centre (IHC) with the parent/legal guardian upon the parent’s/legal guardian’s request and consent. The majority of minors in IHCs are housed with their parent(s)/legal guardian(s).
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, psychological 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, special 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.
Approved by: Scott Harris, Vice President, Intelligence and Enforcement Branch, 613-957-8328
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