TORONTO – Nearly 200 migrants being detained an Ontario prison have received the support of two Canadians recently freed from an Egyptian prison.
On Monday, Dr. Tarek Loubani and John Greyson visited migrant detainees who say they are being arbitrarily held under unacceptable conditions in Lindsay, Ontario’s Central East Correctional Centre.
Loubani, an emergency room doctor from London, Ont., and Toronto filmmaker John Greyson said the plight of the detainees in Lindsay struck a chord with them.
The pair said they were swept up in mass arrests while documenting the anti-government violence that erupted in Cairo on Aug. 16.
During their detention Greyson and Loubani say they were beaten and slept on concrete floors with cockroaches. They were released from a prison in Egypt last month after spending seven weeks being held without charges.
They are now taking up the chorus of activists working on behalf of migrants detained in Lindsay, urging Canada to implement a limit to immigration detention.
“We want a 90-day limit, which is the international standard,” said Loubani on Monday.
There are 191 people detained at the maximum security prison in Lindsay. Some have overstayed their visas; others came to Canada without proper identification; others had their immigration status revoked after being found guilty of a crime.
They claim they’re stuck in legal limbo – detained for years with no legal status in the country, yet unable to leave.
According to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), there are a number of reasons why migrant detainees are unable to leave Canada, including delays in legal proceedings involving protection requests or criminal appeals, because they do not have access to proper travel documents or identification, or because they would be at risk if they returned to their country of nationality.
“For detainees and their families, to suffer indefinite detention is to be consigned to a terrible limbo, not knowing what the future holds, not knowing how long the ordeal with last,” said Greyson on Monday.
On Sept. 17, the migrants began strike action against what they say is “arbitrary” indefinite detention and segregation.
According to the advocacy group End Immigration Detention some of the detainees have been held for as long as seven years and have no idea when they will be released.
Activists say the immigration detainees are locked in their jail cells between 18 and 21 hours a day and don’t have full access to health care or visits from family and legal counsel.
However the CBSA said every person arrested or detained “under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) are afforded their rights, which includes the right to counsel.”
One detainee, Ayad Alshmmar, who has been detained for five years and eight months, said in a release he has been diagnosed with cancer while being held but claims immigration officials “don’t care about it.”
“I said you guys put me in jail and I am sick. In this situation you have to do something. You have to release me to my freedom,” his statement reads.
“The detainee I was able to speak with has lung cancer. It’s currently being treated, but for a person with lung cancer to be in jail with no charges, with no possible end-date is absolutely unacceptable,” said Loubani on Monday.
Members of End Immigration Detention say these migrants don’t have charges against them, or have been found guilty and already served their sentences.
“Deporting people for a crime they have already served a sentence for is unfair double punishment enough. Keeping them in jail indefinitely after their jail term is over is simply unacceptable,” reads the EID website.
The CBSA said that detention is applied as a last resort. “The CBSA relies upon a variety of alternative measures to detention when appropriate and where specified conditions are met, such as reporting requirements, deposits and guarantees,” a CBSA spokesperson told Global News.
The migrants were transferred to the Lindsay jail in August because of the closure of the Toronto West Detention Centre. The CBSA said they anticipate that the move to Lindsay will only be temporary – the detainees are expected to return to Toronto when the new Toronto South Detention Centre opens in 2014.
On behalf of the detainees, activists are petitioning for a number of demands, including an end to long-term detention, an end to detention in maximum security facilities, better access to legal services and an end to constant lockdowns.
Rallies were held across the province last month in support of the detainees.
In a 2011 report, the International Detention Coalition – an international coalition of over 200 non-governmental groups – said countries are increasingly using detention as a way of addressing migration issues.
“Refugees and asylum seekers in particular, are increasingly detained for long periods, in conditions below international standards, often with little or no access to asylum procedures and with no right to challenge their detention,” the report reads.
EID is petitioning the federal Minister of Public Safety, Steven Blaney, to limit immigration detention to 90 days.
Following the publication of this article Jean-Christophe de Le Rue, Minister Blaney’s spokesperson, provided Global News with the following statement:
“Canada has a fair and generous immigration system that allows in over 250,000 legal immigrants each year. We will not compromise the integrity of our immigration system. Those who seek to take advantage of our generosity will be removed.”
*With files from The Canadian Press