"No Justice in Canada": Cases of Asylum and CBSA
Canada enjoys a global reputation as a defender of human rights, however, the government faces longstanding human rights challenges. Some of these relate to the rights of asylum seekers.
The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers have enormous discretion to exercise one of the most invasive acts a government can take against individuals: depriving them of their liberty. Canada remains one of only a few countries without a cap on the length of immigration detention. This immense power creates the conditions for serious human rights violations, including arbitrary and indefinite detention.
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 Canada’s international reputation as a safe haven, difficult and long cases of seeking asylum are not unique. They highlights grave injustices that persist through a culture of impunity and disregard for basic legal standards within Canada’s immigration detention system.
In 2019, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention determined that detention of Ebrahim Toure, who unsuccessfully applied for asylum over his 10 years in Canada, was arbitrary and violated international law; it urged Canada to conduct a “full and independent investigation,” but the government has not complied. The UN also expressed concern over Toure’s health. While he was in jail and in CBSA custody, a doctor prescribed him anti-psychotic medication without formally diagnosing him.
In 2016, CBSA embarked on a new National Immigration Detention Framework, promising to create “a better, fairer” system that “supports the humane and dignified treatment of individuals while protecting public safety.” Toure’s case makes clear not much has changed. CBSA has trouble even abiding by basic legal and ethical standards.
The wave of demonstrations in summer brought into sharper focus severe issues of systemic racism and abuse by police, and the need for improved oversight. CBSA remains Canada’s only enforcement agency with no independent civilian oversight to review policies or investigate misconduct. From soliciting bribes to abuse of authority, CBSA officers hit with hundreds of misconduct complaints.
Despite managing to start building a home in Canada, during his hearing Toure expressed disillusionment. “There is no justice in Canada,” he said. “There is no truth here. What people hear about Canada outside is different than what it is on the inside. You can’t put people in prison for almost six years without charge.”
Refugees do not commit a crime when they cross a border in search of safety. The right to seek asylum is embedded in the Universal Declaration for Human Rights and other human rights instruments. States have an obligation to respect this right and not turn refugees away from their borders to a country where they face persecution.