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“I Didn’t Feel Like a Human in There” - Immigration Detention in Canada and its Impact on Mental Health (2021)

Posted on:
November 27, 2021

Based on research conducted between February 2020 and March 2021, this joint report by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International documents serious international human rights violations that immigration detainees, particularly persons with psychosocial disabilities, face in Canada.

Research included interviews with former immigration detainees and their relatives, mental health experts, academics whose research focuses on immigration detention, lawyers, civil society representatives, and government officials. According to researchers, many former immigration detainees continue to live with the effects of psychosocial disabilities they developed during incarceration, months and even years after their release from detention. Immigration detention also has long-term consequences that ripple beyond immigration detainees and affect their children, loved ones, and communities.

Researchers acknowledge that the Canadian government has introduced new policies, guidelines, and regulatory reforms in response to litigation and advocacy efforts around immigration detention. However, this approach has largely failed to address the deeply embedded structural gaps that disproportionally affect persons with psychosocial disabilities in immigration detention. Canada’s treatment of individuals with mental healthconditions in immigration detention is discriminatory and in breach of Canada’s obligations under international human rights law.

Key Recommendations to the Government of Canada

  • Gradually abolish immigration detention. 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.
  • End the use of solitary confinement in immigration detention. • 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. This oversight body should have the authority to order meaningful remedies and penalties and initiate its own reviews and investigations, including unannounced inspections, and not be driven solely by complaints. The oversight body should also allow for third parties, such as nongovernmental organizations, to file complaints regarding matters relating to individual cases as well as CBSA policies and practices.
  • 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.
  • Withdraw Canada’s declaration and reservation to Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Immigration Detention in Canada and its Impact on Mental Health (2021)

Summary

Based on research conducted between February 2020 and March 2021, this joint report by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International documents serious international human rights violations that immigration detainees, particularly persons with psychosocial disabilities, face in Canada.
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