Friday, 12 May 2017

Imprisoning a refugee when he committed no crime

This is an article that was published by the Toronto Star. I have chosen to place their article in my blog because of its importance.

Ebrahim Toure has never been charged with a crime but has been at the Lindsay, Ontario for four years on immigration detention.

Canadians like to think we’re more enlightened than most other countries, especially these days when we look south to Donald Trump’s America. But this country is lagging badly in at least one area – how we treat unwanted migrants.

Shockingly, Canada’s immigration authorities continue to jail hundreds of would-be immigrants indefinitely – sometimes for years – even though they have committed no crime.

Our system allows the Canada Border Services Agency to put unwanted migrants, such as failed refugee claimants, behind bars without any effective limit on their stay. It’s an appalling practice that is way out of step with how other countries (including the United States) handle this problem.

The Liberal government made a big noise last August about overhauling the system, which got steadily worse during the Harper decade. Under the Conservatives, indefinite detention for unwanted migrants went from rare to routine.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale promised change, and he set aside $138 million last year to “transform the immigration detention system in Canada.” That included money to replace two aging immigration detention centres and to improve medical and mental health services for those being held.

Goodale won praise for the move, including from the Star. But seven months later it’s apparent that little has changed. Most importantly, the government has failed to address the issue of indefinite detention, a practice that has brought condemnation from the United Nations, human rights organizations, and many others.

All this was made clear in a recent series of articles by Brendan Kennedy of the Star, which put faces on the reality of indefinite detention in Canada.

Kennedy reported on the case of Ebrahim Toure, who has just marked four years behind bars in the Central East Correctional Centre, a maximum-security jail in Lindsay, Ontario because the government can’t figure out how to deport him .This s a man wo has never been charged with a crime in Canada or elsewhere.  Neither The Gambia nor Guinea, the countries where Toure says he was born and grew up, will take him because he doesn’t have proper documentation. So he languishes in jail, treated like a serious criminal even though he has committed no crime.

Another detainee, Kashif Ali, has been behind bars for an incredible seven years. He’s from Ghana but that country won’t take him back either because, once again, he can’t produce the right documents. He says his situation is “like torture.”

Other countries face the same awkward issue – unwanted migrants and failed refugee applicants who can’t be quickly deported. But most comparable countries have put limits on the length of time that detainees can be routinely held behind bars – the so-called presumptive period of release.

In the United States it’s just 90 days, which can be renewed for another 90. In Britain, a parliamentary committee recommended 28 days but the British government has not adopted it. Most European Community countries limit detention to 18 months. And the United Nations recommends a “reasonable” time limit.

Canada detained just under 6,600 unwanted migrants in the last fiscal year (down from more than 10,000 in the late Harper years), and the average time they are held is just 23 days. But in some cases it can stretch on for years because there is no mandated time for release and the system is loaded against detainees.

The longer they spend behind bars, the harder it is for them to make a case for release. So they remain in jail, at substantial cost to the Canadian taxpayer and, often, to their physical and mental health.

The problem isn’t new. Advocates for detainees have been pressing for better conditions and limits on their time behind bars for years.

Goodale seemed to be listening last summer when he announced his change in policy. But it will take years to build new detention centres, and while better health services are needed they don’t address the problem of indefinite detention.

The minister did set aside $5 million for “alternatives to detention.” That could include performance bonds, cash deposits or other forms of monitoring to avoid detention at all.

But the government has not come to grips with the issue of indefinite detention, a retrograde practice that puts Canada badly out of step with its closest allies. The government should join the mainstream and set a reasonable time limit – a few months, at most – before detainees must be released.

Exceptions could be made for those who pose a threat to public safety, but it would be up to authorities to prove that.

The current system is expensive, cumbersome and unjust. The Liberal government should live up to its rhetoric and make a definitive break with past policy.

In a forceful rebuke of Canada’s practice of indefinite immigration detention, an Ontario judge on Friday ordered the release of the West African man who says he just wants to go home.

In court testimony, Kashif Ali described the often brutal conditions of his seven-year detention, which included beatings from guards and fellow inmates, near-daily lockdowns and one stretch of solitary confinement that lasted 103 days.

In a forceful rebuke to Canada’s practice of indefinite immigration detention, an Ontario court has ordered the release of Kashif Ali, a West African man who spent more than seven years in a maximum-security jail because Canada was unable to deport him.

Superior Court Justice Ian Nordheimer called the lengthy detention “unacceptable” and said that it violated Ali’s charter rights.

“One thing is clear, and that is that Canada cannot purport to hold someone in detention forever,” Justice Nordheimer said, reading from his decision. “Mr. Ali has not been convicted of a criminal offence, and yet he has been held for over seven years in detention facilities, facilities that, if he had been convicted of a criminal offence, would have entitled him to a credit of more than 10-and-a-half years against any sentence that might be imposed.”

Ali, 51, was the longest-serving immigration detainee still being held. He was one of two detainees profiled in Caged by Canada, a recent Toronto Star investigation.

Wearing a white dress shirt and dark slacks — rather than the orange prison jumpsuit he had previously worn to court — Ali hugged his tearful 26-year-old daughter as soon as he was released from police custody.

“I don’t know what to say right now,” Ali said outside court on Friday, standing next to his daughter, Sakina Millington. “It was very, very tough to be in there seven years without knowing when you’re coming out. I went through a lot, man.”

As part of his court testimony, Ali described the often brutal conditions of his detention, which included beatings from guards and fellow inmates, near-daily lockdowns and one period during which he was placed in solitary

End of the article 

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