Let the children go: The detention of immigrants is hard on the kids

  • October 04, 2016

Children don’t belong in detention.

That’s the message the CBA along with nearly 40 other signatories sent to the government in an open Statement Against the Immigration Detention of Children.

The statement follows on the heels of a report out of the University of Toronto International Human Rights Program that “uncovers the deficient legal underpinnings and detrimental practical implications of child immigration detention in Canada.”

An estimated 242 children were detained in Canada each year between 2010 and 2014 – children who arrived in Canada alone, or with parents who might have been detained for immigration-related reasons.

The best interests of the child should be the foremost consideration the groups say – a stance which accords with a submission the CBA made to the Immigration and Refugee Board in June. And immigration detention is never in the best interests.

“Although many of these children are held as ‘guests’ to avoid separating them from detained parents, in fact they are ‘detained guests’ with no right of review of their detention, and inadequate consideration of their best interests when their parents’ detention is being reviewed,” the groups say.

Holding children in detention contravenes Canada’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the statement says. Children in immigration detention live “like prisoners, in punitive conditions,” with limited access to the outdoors and healthy foods. Unaccompanied children might even be held in solitary confinement, the groups add.

Research conducted in Canadian immigration facilities “shows that detained children suffer extreme distress, fear, and a deterioration of cognitive, physical and emotional functioning both during and long after detention, including anxiety, selective mutism, and post-traumatic stress symptoms.”

The groups note that there are viable alternatives to immigration detention, including “enforcement of specific reporting obligations, the use of cash bonds and guarantors, and suitable risk management programs for more difficult cases,” which should be explored in the cases of unaccompanied minors or children and families.

Given the harm that detention causes not just to children but also to their parents and extended families, the groups urge the government to cease the practice immediately. 

“Community-based alternatives to immigration detention should be implemented immediately to protect the best interests of children and children’s right to liberty and family life. It is time for Canada to live up to its moral and legal obligations.”

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