Here’s how Canada deals with migrant parents, children and detention

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How Canada deals with families seeking asylum
WATCH: How Canada deals with families seeking asylum – Jun 18, 2018

U.S. President Donald Trump‘s immigration policies have come under fire on the international stage after videos and photos have surfaced showing young children being taken away from parents.

The images and stories come after the administration began enforcing its “zero tolerance” policy, which separates families who cross the border into U.S. illegally.

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The policy doesn’t explicitly state that every family entering the U.S. illegally has to be separated. But it does say that all adults crossing into the U.S. without documents will be criminally prosecuted — but not the children.

Once the parents are taken in for prosecution, the children are held in government facilities and then released to adult sponsors or placed in temporary foster care.

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What are the rules in Canada?

In Canada, separating children from their parents is seen as a last resort as per the country’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

“It is affirmed as a principle that a minor child shall be detained only as a measure of last resort, taking into account the other applicable grounds and criteria including the best interests of the child,” the act reads.

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That means detaining children is avoided unless there are serious safety or security issues.

The majority of detained children in Canada accompany their parents who are taken into custody to avoid family separation, according to the Global Detention Project.

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A 2017 report titled “Invisible Citizens: Canadian Children in Immigration Detention” by the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law outlines the problems these children face.

It highlights that parents who are detained often face the difficult decision of surrendering their child to foster care or bring them into detention.

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The children are not labelled as detainees by the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA), but rather as “guests.” Yet, their daily lives mirror those of detainees.

Hanna Gros, an immigration lawyer who wrote the “Invisible Citizens” report told Global National that the detention of children violates human rights.

“The detention of children, or the separation from their families, is entirely unnecessary. These are fundamental human rights violations and they should be recognized as such,” she said.

In November 2017, the federal government said it was working to stop minors from being detained, with the exception of “extremely limited circumstances.” The directive promised to take every step necessary to act according to the international principle dubbed “best interests of the child.”

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Some exceptions may include if they are considered dangerous to the public or national safety, if the family is scheduled to be removed from custody within one week, if there are “consistent” breaches of conditions.

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Aviva Basman, who works with the United Nations Refugee Agency in Canada, outlined the importance of keeping kids out of detention.

“Even one child in detention is far too many,” she said, explaining that children in detention often suffer from psychological side-effects of staying in such facilities.

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How many migrant children are detained in Canada?

According to the most recent statistics available from the CBSA, 155 minors have been kept in detention facilities in the 2017-2018 year already — that includes foreign nationals, permanent residents and Canadians citizens. Five of those children were unaccompanied.

That’s already more than the 151 children taken into detention in the previous year, despite the federal government’s directive to reduce the number.

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What’s the government doing about it?

Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale skirted a question from Global National about why that number is already higher this year.

While in Ottawa, Goodale told reporters that the objective is to “bring down the number of children that are unavoidably, as a last resort, in a detention situation.”

He said the government is investing $138 million into the system — to both improve conditions inside detention facilities and look for alternative solutions.

Goodale added that an announcement on what those alternative solutions would be is incoming in the near future.

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How do Canadian detention facilities compare to the U.S.?

Details on what Canada’s detention facilities look like and how they operate are scarce.

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Global National requested a look inside the facilities, but officials cited privacy concerns for those inside.

READ MORE: Detained migrant tells story of last time she saw her son

However, the “Invisible Citizens” report recorded several accounts of people who were kept in Canadian detention centres.

One mother named Mariame recounted living in a detention centre with her infant son, who was at one point given formula that had been expired for one year.

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“Every time they told me that it wasn’t good for him to be in detention, but that it was my choice,” the mother said.

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Another mother named Naimah stayed at a detention centre with her eight-year-old daughter for more than a year.

After leaving, she said her daughter was diagnosed with several physical and psychological health conditions, including loss of appetite, anxiety and eventually severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

— With files from Global National reporter Abigail Bimman

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