TORONTO (Reuters) – Canada’s immigration detention system relies on faulty information and is stacked against detainees, many of whom lack lawyers and are penalized for having severe mental illness, an audit as found.
The findings, by Toronto-based human rights lawyer Kathy Laird, were commissioned last year by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, the independent government agency whose decision-makers oversee detention reviews.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has vowed to find alternatives to the indefinite incarceration of non-citizens, who can be held without being charged if they are deemed a flight risk, a danger to the public or if their identity is unclear, according to Canada’s regulations.
People in detention are entitled to reviews of their status but the audit found that process is flawed to the detriment of the people incarcerated.
The audit’s recommendations include reform of the detention review process and an immediate review of “long-term detention files,” starting with the 80 people who have been in detention for more than a year.
Adjudicators frequently made decisions based on factual inaccuracies and speculation, and uncritically accepted the statements of border agents, often without allowing detainees to hear or present evidence themselves, the audit found. Detainees were also frequently without lawyers to advise them.
People with mental illness faced “extra barriers to release,” the audit said, citing the example of one man who spent four and a half years in detention and “suffered a complete mental collapse.” The audit said his mental state was used as a reason to keep him locked up.
The Immigration and Refugee Board said in a statement on Friday that it agrees with the recommendations, which “provide opportunities for positive change.”
Representatives for Canada’s Public Safety Ministry and the Immigration and Refugees Ministry, which oversees the Immigration and Refugee Board, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday.
Lawyer Lobat Sadrehashemi, president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, said: “The findings are pretty clear that it’s a system that is very unfair for detainees. This has gone on for too long and the consequences are so severe.”
Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; editing by Diane Craft and Bill Rigby