‘Jails are not hospitals’: Health workers call for end to incarcerating sick detainees

Click to play video: 'Ontario healthcare providers call on Queen’s Park to remove immigration detainees from jails'
Ontario healthcare providers call on Queen’s Park to remove immigration detainees from jails
Ontario healthcare providers call on Queen’s Park to remove immigration detainees from jails – May 17, 2016

Despite calls from “outraged” Ontario health workers, the province won’t stop putting immigration detainees in provincial jails any time soon.

As Global News has reported, mental illness is used as a reason to put innocent people in jail, and then as a reason to put those jailed in solitary confinement — often for years on end.

INVESTIGATION: Canada’s Unwanted

Provincial and federal governments say they’re reviewing their policies but won’t commit to changes.

The people being held by Canada’s Border Services Agency aren’t charged with any crime: They’re non-citizens whose status in Canada is uncertain and who border police consider a flight risk.

The border police have hundreds of people in detention at any given time across the country. They don’t have places to put many of them, and they lack the health resources to treat people with often complex needs.

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So they put the sickest people in jail instead.

The federal government has contracts with the provinces in which they pay to keep immigration detainees in provincial jails. In 2013-14, the feds paid Ontario $21 million for that service.

Once these people are in jail, Global News investigations have shown, these people are put in solitary confinement indefinitely because of their mental illness.

INVESTIGATION: Death Behind Bars

“We are absolutely outraged,” Toronto psychiatrist Michaela Beder told Global News.

Beder is one of 146 signatories to an open letter calling on Correctional Services Minister Yasir Naqvi to cancel Ontario’s agreement to jail immigration detainees at the CBSA’s request.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, who is responsible for the Border Services Agency, has said he’s reviewing their practices and accountability mechanisms. There’s no timeline for that review.

In the meantime, Ontario will keep jailing people at the CBSA’s request.

Whether to jail sick people is “something for the federal government to consider, because they’re the ones who make the decision as to who comes into their custody or is a detainee,” Naqvi said.

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Naqvi noted the province tried to keep immigration detainees separate from other inmates and has begun letting the Red Cross inside jails to inspect the conditions of detainees’ incarceration.

As part of a human rights settlement three years ago, Ontario agreed to stop using mental illness as a reason for putting people in solitary confinement.

But Naqvi won’t commit to following through on that.

“We’re still doing a consultation, talking with our partners, our frontline staff. And we’re going through a fair bit of information that’s available to us,” he told Global News earlier this month.

Beder argues many of the people being detained probably don’t need to be held against their will at all. And the ones who are really sick, she said, should be in hospital.

“Jails are not hospitals,” she said.

“Access to health care within the jails is woefully inadequate for anybody.”

As Global News has reported, psychiatric prisons designed to care for sick inmates are the deadliest and most violent in the country.

“People who are there as immigration detainees, for administrative reasons, often have severe histories of trauma. They might be refugee claimants who’ve come from war-torn countries … and then to place them in a jail? What kind of a welcome is that?”

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Jana Caiscoba’s welcome to Canada was the treatment she’d left home to flee.

Caiscoba, who says she was locked in a Czech psychiatric hospital and abused because of her schizophrenia, was detained at the airport by border police.

She spent eight months at Vanier Detention Centre in Milton — much of it in lockdown, she says.

“It was terrible,” she said.

“I didn’t do anything wrong, and I was locked up in jail for eight months.”

Tell us your story: Have you or someone close to you been held in immigration detention or solitary confinement? We’d love to speak with you.

Note: We won’t publish anything you send us without your permission. We may get in touch if we have questions. We definitely won’t publish your contact information.

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