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Immigration Detention in Canada: Important Reforms, Ongoing Concerns June 2018

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Although Canada has experienced increasing immigration pressures, including receiving in 2017 the highest number of asylum claims in its history, the country has not witnessed the same acrimonious public debate over immigration seen elsewhere. It has adopted important reforms, including the introduction of a National Immigration Detention Framework aimed at improving detention conditions and reducing the use of prisons for immigration reasons. Concerns, however, remain: One third of immigration detainees are still held in prisons, including individuals with mental health conditions; there is no maximum limit to the length of detention; children may be “housed” in detention facilities to prevent the separation of families; Canada is one of only a handful of countries with a mandatory detention policy, which includes detention for up to 12 months with no judicial review; and anti-terrorism provisions in its immigration legislation have been used to detain and deport foreign nationals on secret evidence.


  • Despite the introduction of a "National Immigration Detention Framework" in 2017—which aims to improve detention conditions and reduce the use of prisons—Canada continues to confine approximately one third of its immigration detainees in prisons;
  • Canada does not place a limit on the length of time people can spend in immigration detention;
  • Children may be “housed” in detention as “guests” in order to avoid the separation of families;
  • Canada is among a small number of countries to have mandatory detention provisions, including detention for up to 12 months without judicial review;
  • Non-citizens with psychosocial disabilities or mental health conditions can be placed in either immigration detention centres or maximum-security provincial jails, where they may have little or no access to proper treatment;
  • Canada does not have an institutionalised framework for independent monitoring of detention conditions and there is no formal mechanism for immigration detainees to lodge complaints;
  • There is very little publicly available information about which provincial prisons are in operation at a given time for immigration-related purposes;
  • “Security certificate” anti-terrorism provisions in its immigration legislation can be used to detain and deport foreign nationals for issues unrelated to immigration.