COVID-19 Measures at Immigration Holding Centres

Date: August 12, 2020
Classification: Unclassified
Fully releasable (ATIP)? Yes
Branch / Agency: IEB/CBSA

Proposed Response:

If pressed:

If pressed on possible death in custody:

If pressed on minors in detention:

If pressed on the Federal Court Decision on Immigration Detention:


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:

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:

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. 

Detention Statistics

Since November 2016, the CBSA has been posting statistics related to immigration detention online at

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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