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Ending immigration detention in BC jails a critical step in respecting human rights

June 27, 2022   |   News, Blog

Responding to overwhelming evidence and citing human rights concerns, the BC government will no longer allow the detention of im/migrants in provincial jails. This victory for human rights is due in large part to the collective effort of a community-led coalition of human rights groups, civil liberties organizations and social justice advocates, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and supported by the Centre for Gender & Sexual Health Equity at UBC Faculty of Medicine.
British Columbia is the first province to cancel its contract with the Canadian Border Services Agency, which had been using provincial correctional facilities to incarcerate im/migrants awaiting immigration hearings. The CBSA has sweeping police powers but remains the only major law enforcement agency in the country with no independent civilian oversight, leading to serious and widespread human rights violations in immigration detention. In a statement, Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth said that aspects of the CBSA contract “do not align with our government’s commitment to upholding human rights standards or our dedication to pursuing social justice and equity for everyone.” [source]
As an academic partner of the community-led coalition leading the campaign to end immigration detention, CGSHE contributed to a joint government submission. The submission reviewed the evidence on the severe adverse impacts of incarceration on immigration detainees, who have no criminal charges but are held indefinitely, including gendered harms. “Carceral detention can be especially traumatizing for survivors of gender-based violence and interpersonal violence,” the submission stated. “There is considerable risk of retraumatizing survivors where the circumstances or experience of detention replicates or approximates earlier experiences of confinement, powerlessness, humiliation, or coercion.”
The submission documented other gendered harms, including increased chances of detention for women, trans and non-binary im/migrants fleeing gender-based persecution from states where access to identity documents may be impossible. Family separation, another harmful outcome of immigration detention, “may cause those without legal status to not seek out necessary public services for themselves or their children, including education and healthcare.” The submission referred to studies indicating that women with precarious immigration status may delay seeking prenatal care and consequently have higher rates of miscarriage, premature birth and infant mortality.
CGSHE faculty Dr. Mei-ling Wiedmeyer, Clinical Assistant Professor in UBC’s Department of Family Practice led an open letter to all premiers and the federal government, signed by 180 health care professionals, as part of the campaign. Referencing the global medical literature, the letter called the practice of incarcerating im/migrants in provincial jails “egregiously discriminatory and profoundly inhumane” with serious mental health consequences. According to UBC Law Professor Efrat Arbel, “Most immigration detainees can be held in ways that ensure [they] are accounted for and so they can appear for their immigration proceedings. But that does not require holding people behind bars or depriving them of their fundamental liberty or human dignity.” [source]
The coalition also drafted a motion calling on Vancouver City Council to ask the province to respect the provincial government’s human rights obligations by its immigration detention agreement with the CBSA. After hearing from numerous speakers, including two people who had previously been detained in a BC jail, council passed the motion unanimously.
Join the press conference livestream on THURSDAY, JULY 28 at 8:00 a.m. to hear about next steps in the campaign, including leveraging the BC decision to pressure other provinces and the federal government to end immigration detention across the country.
MEDIA INQUIRIES: To interview Dr. Wiedmeyer, contact Kate MIlberry, 236.818.7763 or kate.milberry@cgshe.ubc.ca