Release: Jailing immigration detainees in British Columbia prisons infringes on rights

Wednesday, May 4, 2022 – (Vancouver, BC – Xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) territories) – A coalition of organizations, groups and concerned citizens are calling on the City of Vancouver to send a clear message to the Province of British Columbia to end its agreement with Canada Border Services Agency (CSBA) currently allowing for the detention of migrants and refugee claimants in provincial jails through 14 days of action. The days of action lead up to a Vancouver City Hall motion to be introduced May 17 calling on the province to end the agreement which is currently under review by BC Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth and is expected to be completed by June 2, 2022.

The 14 Days of Action will include a social media call-to-action from Justice for Girls on Mother’s Day, an online teach-in hosted by Pivot Legal Society, a letter-writing campaign, and the public release of a host of open letters and submissions for the review. These submissions include ones from individuals with lived experience, such as Abdelrahman Elmady and Sara Maria Gomez Lopez, groups of concerned health care providers, lawyers and people from faith communities, the BC Civil Liberties Association, SWAN, and a joint submission from the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition, Community Legal Assistance Society, Immigration and Refugee Legal Clinic, Migrant Workers Centre BC and West Coast LEAF.

The submissions highlight a variety of concerns including that jailing people for purely immigration purposes may violate the BC Human Rights Code’s protection from discrimination based on several protected grounds, including place of origin, race, and sex. Furthermore, the CBSA’s practices in immigration detention are discriminatory against people with mental health conditions, and officers have characterized behaviours associated with psychosocial disabilities and/or mental health deterioration as non-cooperation and reason for continued detention. Immigration detainees from racialized communities, primarily detainees who are Black, are incarcerated for longer periods and are more frequently held in provincial jails. BC’s agreement with the CBSA perpetuates this disproportionate harm and systemic racism.

The campaign comes on the heels of an effort by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to end the practice nationally. The two groups released a legal memorandum on April 4, 2022, showing that Canada’s practice of incarcerating immigration detainees in provincial jails is inconsistent with international human rights standards.

Every year, Canada incarcerates hundreds of people on immigration-related grounds in dozens of provincial jails across the country, including in maximum-security facilities. People in immigration detention are regularly handcuffed, shackled, restricted to small spaces with rigid routines, and placed under constant surveillance.

According to the CBSA’s most recent statistics, BC has the second highest number of people in immigration detention second only to Ontario. After a major decline in the number of people in immigration detention at the beginning of the pandemic, the quarterly number of immigration detainees more than doubled the year after the onset of the pandemic, from 64 to 134.


“Immigration detention robs immigrants and refugees of the basic rights and freedoms upon which Canada prides itself. Many people who are detained do not have access to legal support or healthcare services, and cannot contact friends or family. They are held without a timeline for their release, and restricted by handcuffs, shackles, and solitary confinement. The unfettered discretion of Canada Border Services Agency has resulted in an immigration detention regime that is cruel and inhumane. The BCCLA urges the provincial government to prioritize the health and well-being of immigrants and refugees and end its agreement with CBSA allowing immigration detainees to be housed in provincial jails.”

– Mara Selanders, Staff Counsel (Policy), BC Civil Liberties Association

“Immigration detention has devastating and long-lasting impacts on people who are detained, their loved ones, and communities. We call on BC to demonstrate its commitment to human rights by ending immigration detention in its provincial jails.”

– Julia Sande, Human Rights Law & Policy Campaigner, Amnesty International

“Canada should get on the path to abolishing immigration detention, and immediately end the incarceration of immigration detainees in provincial jails. The provinces, including BC, should urgently cancel these detention contracts and stop their complicity in the abuses taking places in their jails.”

– Samer Muscati, Acting Disability Rights Director, Human Rights Watch

“It is indefensible that BC’s jails are being used by the CBSA to warehouse migrants. Women, transgender, and non-binary migrants are at increased risk of prolonged and indefinite detention—often under carceral conditions—for no reason other than being a person without legal status. Immigration detention is especially harmful to migrants who are survivors of gender-based violence who are at grave risk of being retraumatized when they are detained in conditions that replicate their prior experiences of abuse, coercion, powerlessness, and humiliation. It’s long past due for BC to end its complicity in immigration detention.”

– Raji Mangat, Executive Director of West Coast LEAF

“The Poverty Reduction Coalition joins the call for the end of arbitrary and cruel migrant detention agreements in BC detention facilities. As the legal status of migrants becomes increasingly precarious, so too does their economic security. Provinces can now impose individual residency requirements for eligibility for social assistance and other supports. These changes deepen poverty for those who are already marginalized, including migrants with precarious status. During the recent period of recession, both the unemployment rate and the poverty rate of recent immigrants were more than double those of the Canadian-born population, meaning that immigration is already a cause of poverty, and adding detention creates further deep and long term harm to people seeking safety and refuge in BC. Our efforts to dismantle racial inequality, colonialism, ableism, and gender inequality are inextricably linked to ending poverty for those most impacted. Our work must continue to intensify and prioritize policy to that end. The current agreements violate the rights and dignity of migrant people, upholds racist and ableist practices, and create undue hardship, barriers, and in some cases, lifelong trauma, and we are calling for an end to these aberrant practices.”

– Rowan Burdge, Provincial Director, BC Poverty Reduction

Media Contacts:

Owen Cameron, BC Civil Liberties Association,
Samer Muscati, Human Rights Watch,
Julia Sande, Amnesty International,