Nearly 100 protesters hit the streets in Laval in protest of Lemay architecture firm’s bidding to design a new immigration detention centre.
Lemay is one of several firms competing for two multi-million dollar contracts by the Canada Border Services Agency to design the holding facility, which is set to open by 2021.
The centre will house people who have been detained for immigration-related reasons, most of them because they do not have verifiable identity documents or are deemed flight risks. Over the past six years, close to 45,000 people have been detained in Canada under such circumstances.
Plans for the centre were announced by the federal government in 2016 as a part of the Liberals’ plans to create “a fairer and more humane immigration-detention system.” Another new holding centre will be constructed in British Columbia.
The protesters, who marched from Place-Saint-Henri métro station to Lemay’s head office on St. Jacques Street, carried signs with the names of people who have been deported from Canada in recent years, chanting slogans like “prisons are cages.”
Despite Lemay’s plans for the site being described as “aesthetically pleasing” and featuring extensive foliage, the demonstrators called it a prison.
“I think people are glued to their screens watching Trump fill up the migrant prisons there and they don’t realize that there’s a migrant prison in our backyard here,” organizer David Zinman said to CTV.
When Prime Minister Trudeau assumed office in 2015, he offered a more refugee-friendly tone that contrasted sharply with the generally more cautious and hesitant rhetoric that prevails in much of North America and in Europe.
Even as the number of “irregular” asylum seekers arriving at the Canadian border began to increase after he took office—due in part to the harsh anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric of the Trump administration—Trudeau remained on message, tweeting pro-migrant slogans in early 2017:
That year, Canada received the most asylum applications in its history (50,420) as the number of Haitians arriving from the United States surged.
Canada has recently implemented important reforms to its detention practices. In 2016 the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, responding to growing public pressure, announced Canada’s intention to “transform” its immigration detention system to “better align itself with international and domestic standards.”
The country implemented a New National Immigration Detention Framework in 2017, which included a pledge for a 138 million CAD investment to improve immigration detention, primarily by expanding and renovating federal immigration detention facilities.
The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) says the framework is intended to keep children out of detention and families together “as much as humanly possible,” decrease the number of long-term detainees, reduce the use of maximum-security jails and reliance on provincial criminal facilities, and expand the use of “alternatives to detention” to “ensure that detention is truly a last resort.”
The reforms have had some notable results: The number of detainees held for three months or longer dropped by almost 30 percent during the year 2016-2017, and the overall number of detainees dropped by five percent over the same period. The average number of days in detention has also decreased by 20 percent over the same time period.
However, observers point to ongoing concerns. Importantly, Canada maintains a policy of unlimited detention as there is no maximum length of detention in law. The country also continues to confine approximately a third of its immigration detainees (and almost all long-term detainees) in prisons. This may be why an immigration detention center would be seen as necessary in the first place.
As the Global Detention Project (GDP) has highlighted in its reports on other countries that have used their prison systems for immigration reasons (including Switzerland and Germany), the use of local prisons makes accessing up-to-date information about detention practices extremely difficult, raising questions about transparency. Hopefully with the construction of a new facility, these numbers will be more accessible and our prisons will not be as clogged up with “irregular migrants.”
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