Immigration detainees on hunger strike; want meeting with public safety minister

More than 50 immigration detainees began refusing food Monday in two Ontario centres

TORONTO – A group advocating for full immigration status for all migrants says more than 50 immigration detainees began refusing food Monday in two Ontario centres.

The End Immigration Detention Network says the detainees are protesting prison conditions that include increasing lockdowns and the use of solitary confinement, and are calling for an end to indefinite detentions in maximum security prisons.

The immigration detainees are asking for a meeting with Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to discuss their concerns. A spokesman for Goodale says the minister is working on issues related to detention and hopes to put forward proposals later this year.

Those taking part in the protest are housed at the maximum security Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ont., and the Toronto East Detention Centre.

The End Immigration Detention Network says immigration detainees previously went on a hunger strike that began on April 21, and met with officials from Canada Border Services Agency.

But the group says CBSA has not followed through on promises it made and the detainees have begun the new hunger strike – this time calling for a meeting with elected officials.

“We would like to meet with MPs,” said Toby Clark, who has been in immigration detention since August 2014.

“To me, the way immigration detention is right now, it’s cruel and unusual punishment,” Clark said Monday in a release.

Sharmeen Khan of End Immigration Detention Network said detainees are often on long lockdowns during the summer – sometimes kept in their cells for days in a row, unable to speak with their families, or get legal support.

“Goodale must meet with the detainees, and commit to upholding international norms and basic human rights by ending immigration detention,” Khan said.

“Many of these detainees are already sick, this hunger strike could put them in grave danger.”

Goodale spokesman Scott Bardsley said Monday in an email that CBSA is required to consider all reasonable alternatives before detaining someone.

“Under Canadian law, detention is only allowed when: identity is not certain, there is a flight risk or a danger for the public,” Bardsley said.

Goodale has met with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the BC Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers and others to discuss detention issues, he said.

“Our goal is to ensure our Canadian approach is world-class, including our methods of enforcement, with effective transparency and accountability.”

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