HEADLINE | Posted: Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Canada sued over harsh migrant detentions


The Canadian government is being sued for allegedly violating migrants’ rights by detaining them alongside criminal suspects while awaiting processing of their status, lawyers for the migrants said Tuesday.

One of the migrants described his time in detention as a “living hell.” Another described a traumatic atmosphere in prison, with drug use and fights among inmates.

Migrants were at times shackled and subjected to strip searches, the lawyers said.

“Immigration detention is administrative detention and should not be punitive in nature,” said the plaintiffs’ lawyers, who are seeking C$100 million ($73.4 million) in damages.

These allegations of harsh treatment are contained in a ruling handed down Friday by the Superior Court of Ontario province, which authorized a class action suit by 8,360 people detained by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) between 2016 and 2023 in 87 prisons.

Foreign nationals — including asylum seekers — who were not accused of a crime “encountered the same conditions as criminal inmates, including co-mingling with violent offenders, use of restraints such as shackles and handcuffs, strip searches, and severe restrictions on contact and movement,” wrote Justice Benjamin Glustein.

Border agents can detain migrants if there is fear that they will not show up for an immigration hearing, if their identity is in doubt or if they pose a danger to public safety.

But having them held in provincial jails instead of immigration facilities violates their rights, the lawsuit claims.

One party to the suit with the surnames Garcia Paez, who was incarcerated for 13 days in 2021, described his time in jail in a sworn statement as traumatic, with a violent atmosphere, drug use and physical assaults involving other detainees.

The Canadian government, which can still appeal, has said it has not yet decided its next step.

“It was important to me to bring this lawsuit not just for myself but for the thousands of other immigration detainees who, like me, were incarcerated in provincial prisons and treated as if they were criminals despite not even being accused of a crime,” said another of the plaintiffs, Tyron Richard.

“I felt an overwhelming sense of helplessness during the 18 months I spent in a maximum-security prison. It was a living hell. I am proud that I am now able to stand up and fight back.”

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