Inquest Highlights Abuses in Canada’s Immigration Detention

Central East Correctional Centre in Kawartha Lakes, Ontario, February 10, 2021. Kawartha 411

By Human Rights Watch

A coroner’s inquest into the 2015 death of Abdurahman Hassan, a refugee from Somalia, has brought to light shocking details about Canada’s immigration detention system and abusive conditions in provincial jails.

In response, 40 organizations have renewed their call on the federal government to stop incarcerating people in provincial jails for administrative immigration purposes. The letter was also endorsed by former cabinet ministers Lloyd Axworthy and Allan Rock.

Abdurahman lived in Canada for two decades before he was placed in immigration detention pending his deportation. He was stripped of his legal status because of several run-ins with the law. Abdurahman had several mental health conditions. After completing his criminal jail sentence, he was incarcerated in immigration detention for three years in a maximum-security provincial jail in Ontario. He was repeatedly subjected to prolonged segregation, in one instance spending 95 consecutive days in isolation.

On top of these punitive and inhumane conditions, Abdurahman’s prolonged detention was unnecessary and arbitrary. His deportation could not be carried out because Somalia was too dangerous for Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers to escort him. There is no legal limit to the duration of immigration detention in Canada, so Abdurahman never knew if or when he would be released.

At the inquest, correctional staff who knew Abdurahman testified that jail was not the right place for him. He could not access the treatment and support he required, and they feared for his safety. Nevertheless, nearly eight years after Abdurahman’s death, CBSA continues to detain people with mental health conditions in provincial jails so they can “access specialized care.”

The inquest counsel recalled the testimony of a correctional officer, one of the last people to spend time with Abdurahman at the hospital. The officer testified they spent the day talking about old times. He helped bathe and feed Abdurahman. “It was a good day,” he said.

Such humane treatment should be the norm. “It should be our goal as a society to ensure that all people, including immigration detainees like Mr. Hassan, be treated with this degree of dignity and care,” the inquest counsel concluded in his closing submissions. “The question is whether there is a will to make that happen.”

The inquest jury made 53 recommendations to prevent similar deaths in the future. Their first is that the federal government should stop using provincial jails for immigration detention in Ontario. Four provinces have already committed to ending this practice, although CBSA insists negotiations are ongoing. It’s time for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to finally stand up to CBSA and stop this rights-violating practice across Canada.