Human rights groups laud Nova Scotia’s decision to end immigration detention in provincial jails

Nova Scotia is the second province in Canada to end immigration detention deal with CBSA

Human rights groups laud Nova Scotia’s decision to end immigration detention in provincial jails

Human rights groups Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) celebrated Nova Scotia’s plan to terminate its agreement with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) to house immigration detainees in provincial correctional centres.

The move follows a similar decision by British Columbia on July 21 to end its immigration detention deal with the CBSA, making Nova Scotia the second province in Canada to take steps to halt immigration detention in provincial jails.

“Nova Scotia’s decision is a momentous human rights victory that upholds the dignity and rights of people who come to Canada in search of safety or a better life,” said HRW associate disability rights director Samer Muscati. “With two provinces now canceling their immigration detention contracts within weeks, the federal government should show leadership by canceling the remaining agreements, which are at the heart of so many rights violations.”

According to the groups, the CBSA has incarcerated thousands of people in jails across Canada on immigration grounds over the past five years. In Nova Scotia, they are held in prisons by default because the provincial government has no dedicated immigration holding center.

The groups also confirmed that based on information accessed under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, as of April 2021, the federal government pays Nova Scotia $392.30 per day for each immigration detainee − one of the highest rates in the country. Moreover, their June 2021 report revealed that Canada is among the few countries in the global north with no legal limit on the length of time individuals can spend in immigration detention.

The groups asserted that people with psychosocial disabilities experience discrimination throughout the immigration detention process. People from communities of colour, particularly Black people, appear to be incarcerated for longer periods in immigration detention and often in provincial jails instead of immigration holding centers.

“Across the Atlantic provinces and throughout the country, migrants and refugee claimants too frequently face abusive, open-ended immigration detention – especially traumatic for those fleeing war or persecution in search of a safe haven,” said Halifax Refugee Clinic executive director Julie Chamagne. “Nova Scotia’s decision is an important step forward for human rights. We call on the federal government to enact robust legislative and regulatory changes to stop rights violations in this system across the country.”

The groups claimed that Nova Scotia’s decision is building “powerful momentum” to end immigration detention in provincial jails. Since they started their #WelcomeToCanada campaign in the province six months ago, approximately 4,600 people have called on the government to take this step. #WelcomeToCanada is a campaign bringing together advocates to get Canada on the path to abolishing immigration detention.

“We commend Nova Scotia for its decision to stop locking up refugee claimants and migrants in the province’s jails solely on immigration grounds,” AI Canada secretary general Ketty Nivyabandi said. “There is now clear pressure to end this harmful practice across the country. We urge other provinces and the federal government to follow suit.”

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