Canada’s Abuse of Immigrants

By: Tia DeRuiter

In July of 2020, the Federal Court of Canada passed a ruling that withdrew Canada
from their participation within the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) (Canadian Council
for Refugees [CCR], 2020). An agreement which legalized the transfer of refugees back to
whatever “safe” country they landed in first, either Canada or the United States (Government
of Canada). The proposed withdrawal from this agreement was brought forth on the grounds
of the egregious conditions in which the United States treated those who were sent back from
Canada, including arbitrary imprisonment, psychological abuse, and extreme human rights
abuses (CCR, 2020). The court justified their decision to leave the STCA because of the
United States clear and appalling violations of section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights
and Freedoms (CCR, 2020). The section in which gives all persons the equal right to security
and liberty, a right infringed upon by the erroneous treatment of refugees in the U.S. (CCR,
2020).

Almost one year later, in June of 2021, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty
International (AI) released a report detailing the appalling treatment of immigrants in Canada,
those in which are remarkably similar to the conditions for which Canada left the STCA
(Gros et al., 2021). According to this report, Canada imprisons thousands of people a year on
immigration related charges, often involving abusive behaviour (Gros et al., 2021). Not only
are the reasons for which these immigrants are detained not disclosed or arbitrary, but their
release dates are kept from them as well (Gros et al., 2021). During their imprisonment,
immigrant detainees face some of the most putative measures, including being housed in
maximum security prisons, and emplaced into solitary confinement, finding that these
conditions were even harsher for Black immigrants, and those with psychosocial disabilities
(Gros et al., 2021). These abuses have had devastatingly severe impacts on the mental health
of these immigrants, often resulting in feelings of hopelessness, failure, and sometimes
suicide (Gros et al., 2021).

It is not difficult to draw the parallels between this abuse, arbitrary detainment, and
human rights violations, that not less than a year ago Canada’s courts denounced the United
States for (CCR, 2020). Both HRW and AI hold that something must be done to eradicate
these atrocious conditions and treatment (Gros et al., 2021). A report done in 2016, in
conjunction with the University of Toronto, AI, and many other organizations, provided
suggestions for eliminating these abuses (Muscati, 2016). Including, but not limited to,
establishing an independent body to which the Canadian Border Patrol Service Agency
(CBSA) is held accountable, modifying existing laws and regulations, imposing requirements
to access of essential services for both physical and mental health, and increasing funding to
find safe, healthy, and adequate housing for immigration detainees (Muscati, 2016). Since
this, both the CBSA and the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada have responded,
declaring their intentions to look further into this issue, but action has yet to be seen
(Ossowski, 2021; Wex, 2021). While Canada may never change their approach to this issue,
there is hope through advocacy by AI, HRW, and institutions like UofT, that there will be
amendments in the future.

Image Attribution: hrw.org, via Getty Images

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