We come together as representatives of Baha’í, Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh faith traditions out of a shared concern for the dignity and humanity of refugee claimants and other newcomers to Canada. Our diverse faiths urge us to uphold the human rights of those seeking safety or a better life, and to denounce instances of injustice and mistreatment against them.
Together, as people of faith, we call on the Government of Canada and the Provincial Correctional Ministries to end the human rights violations in immigration detentions that currently impact thousands of immigrants and refugee claimants, as evidenced by a recent Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International report.
Despite Canada’s reputation as a multicultural country that welcomes refugees, the experience of people seeking safety or a better life in this country tells a different story. Over the past decade, more than 60,000 people have been incarcerated in immigration detention, including in some of the most restrictive conditions of confinement and without a set release date. Although immigration detainees are held exclusively under immigration law and for non-criminal purposes, they are handcuffed, shackled, searched, and restricted to small spaces with rigid routines and under constant surveillance, with severely limited access to the outside world. The situation is aggravated for people of colour and persons with disabilities, who face additional discriminatory treatment throughout the detention process.
Detention can exacerbate existing psychosocial disabilities and frequently triggers new ones, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress. Immigration detention also has long-term consequences that ripple beyond immigration detainees and affect their children, other loved ones, and their communities. It also undermines their trust in public institutions.
Figures from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) reveal that the number of immigration detainees incarcerated in Canada has increased every year between 2016-17 and 2019-20, peaking in 2019-20 with a total of 8,825 people in immigration detention. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, Canadian authorities have released immigration detainees at unprecedented rates, providing clear evidence that there are viable alternatives to depriving people of their liberty for indeterminate periods of time.
All of our religions teach the fundamental worth of every human being. The mistreatment of people seeking safety or a better life transgresses human dignity and is in stark contrast to the rich diversity and the values of equality and justice that Canada prides itself on upholding. Incarceration has devastating consequences both at the personal and community level, and contributes to the effective wrongful criminalization of refugee claimants and other newcomers. Furthermore, since the vast majority of immigration detentions (93% according to numbers from CBSA) are unrelated to public safety concerns, we believe that alternatives to detention do not compromise the Government’s responsibility to keep Canada safe.
Thus, we unite in condemning the systemic human rights violations against individuals in immigration detention, and call on the Federal Government to abolish immigration detentions. Under no circumstances should a person for immigration-related reasons be treated in a punitive manner, including being subjected to solitary confinement, or detained in facilities used for criminal law enforcement, such as jails, prisons, or police stations, or in jail-like facilities.
As interim measures, we call for the Ministry of Public Safety Canada and the Provincial Correctional Ministries to end the use of provincial jails and other criminal incarceration facilities for immigration detention and cancel all agreements and contracts between the federal and provincial governments that allow for it.
We further call on Public Safety Canada and Canada’s Cabinet to:
- Establish an independent body responsible for overseeing and investigating CBSA, with which immigration detainees can lodge complaints in the event of allegations of abuse, neglect, or other human rights concerns, to hold the government accountable.
- Sign and ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to allow for international inspection of all sites of detention.
- Conduct a national independent review of the immigration detention system focusing on systemic racism and discrimination against persons with disabilities, particularly those with actual or perceived mental health conditions.
- Replace detention with community-based case management for those with pending immigration proceedings. Expand localized programs of community-based alternatives to detention that provide support rather than surveillance, and that are operated by local nonprofit organizations independently from CBSA.
- Require that all facilities where immigration detainees are held grant nonprofit organizations access to provide legal education, programming, and monitoring of conditions.
Finally, we call on the Ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to:
- Amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to limit the length of detention.
- Amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations to prohibit authorities from holding persons with physical or psychosocial disabilities in immigration detention.
- Amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to prohibit the detention of children and the separation of children from their detained parents, guided by the principle that neither detention nor family separation is ever in the best interests of children.
It’s time for Canada to truly welcome people seeking safety or a better life. As people of faith, we denounce and demand an immediate stop to these human rights violations in immigration detentions, and commit to continued advocacy to guarantee that all newcomers are welcomed to Canada with the dignity and respect they deserve.
Signatures from leaders of faith organizations and community members
Join faith leaders and community members across Canada in calling for the Government to end the human rights violations in immigration detentions. Add your signature!
Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ) is coordinating this interfaith call to action and welcomes leaders of faith communities and faith‐based organizations to speak out and endorse the statement. For more information on how to endorse, please contact Emilio Rodriguez (ac.jpc@oilime).
This statement is issued in the context of the “Human Rights Violations in Canadian Immigration Detention – An Interfaith Call to Action” event, a collaboration between CPJ and Human Rights Watch. Its text and policy recommendations are drawn from the #WelcomeToCanada campaign, produced by HRW and Amnesty International. For inquiries about the #WelcomeToCanada campaign, please contact Victoria Strang (gro.wrh@vgnarts).