Now is the time for action
It is exactly nine months this week since the Liberal government took office. In that time, their efforts on a number of immigration-related files have been admirable. Notably, the efforts to take in many thousands of Syrian refugees over the course of the winter was a welcome change from the previous incumbents of the government benches. There are, however, certain areas that demand attention, none more so than the indefinite detention without charges of foreign nationals in provincial prisons.
So far this year, at least three individuals have died while in immigration custody, with the Ottawa Citizen referring to detention as the “ugly underbelly” of how Canada treats certain migrants.
This summer, it has taken hunger strikes among detainees to bring popular attention, via the media, to their plight. Around 50 individuals began a hunger strike at two Ontario prisons on July 11. Their principle demand is for a meeting with Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale. The group wants Goodale to limit detentions to 90 days and to stop putting immigration detainees in maximum security prisons.
Throughout all this, it is crucial to remember that many children are among those being detained. Between 2005 and 2015, 4,392 minors were placed in immigration detention in Canada. Some were there for months or years. Some remain there. Last summer, in a blog titled ‘Children deserve to celebrate Canada Day,’ I wrote that, perhaps naïvely, I didn’t think Canada was a place where children were placed in indefinite detention, at least certainly not in those numbers.
At the time of writing, it seems that the hunger strike may be ending. Let us hope that safety and common sense prevails, and that no more people feel compelled to follow this course of action. The best way — indeed, the only way — to address the issue is for our government leaders to face up to the scale of the problem and deal with it appropriately, and with far more humanity than their predecessors, who first allowed the situation to get out of hand.
Surely, nine months is enough time to formulate policies, draft legislation, and implement change for individuals and families. A government’s mandate can fly by in what seems like an instant, and we could be here again in a year, two years, three, asking the same questions and seeing the same results if something is not done soon to change this dark side of our immigration system.