Media Releases

Canada Should Implement Alternatives to Immigration Detention of Children, Family Separation

September 22, 2016

In recent years, hundreds of children have been housed in immigration detention with detrimental consequences for their mental health

Toron­to, ON – Cana­da should urgent­ly imple­ment alter­na­tives to detain­ing chil­dren rather than hous­ing them in immi­gra­tion deten­tion facil­i­ties or sep­a­rat­ing them from their detained par­ents, the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toronto’s Inter­na­tion­al Human Rights Pro­gram (IHRP) said in a report released today. In fail­ing to do so, Cana­da is vio­lat­ing its inter­na­tion­al legal oblig­a­tions.

Over the past sev­er­al years, Cana­da has held hun­dreds of chil­dren in immi­gra­tion deten­tion, includ­ing chil­dren from Syr­ia and oth­er war-torn regions. Accord­ing to fig­ures obtained by the IHRP through access to infor­ma­tion requests, an aver­age of 242 chil­dren were detained each year between 2010 and 2014. These fig­ures are an under­es­ti­mate because they do not account for all chil­dren liv­ing with their par­ents in deten­tion as ‘guests’, who were not sub­ject to for­mal deten­tion orders. Some of these include chil­dren with Cana­di­an cit­i­zen­ship.

“The immi­gra­tion deten­tion of chil­dren does noth­ing to increase pub­lic safe­ty, but has an immense­ly detri­men­tal and last­ing impact on an already vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tion,” said Samer Mus­cati, IHRP direc­tor. “Instead of lock­ing chil­dren up or sep­a­rat­ing them from their detained par­ents, these chil­dren need mean­ing­ful pro­tec­tion  in com­mu­ni­ty-based alter­na­tives to deten­tion.”

The 70-page report,  “‘No Life for a Child’: A Roadmap to End Immi­gra­tion Deten­tion of Chil­dren and Fam­i­ly Sep­a­ra­tion,” uncov­ers the defi­cient legal under­pin­nings and detri­men­tal prac­ti­cal impli­ca­tions of Cana­di­an immi­gra­tion deten­tion for chil­dren. The report makes 11 rec­om­men­da­tions  to ensure that Cana­da com­plies with its inter­na­tion­al human rights oblig­a­tions, and ana­lyzes var­i­ous inter­na­tion­al mod­els of alter­na­tives to deten­tion and fam­i­ly sep­a­ra­tion. The report con­cludes that chil­dren and fam­i­lies with chil­dren should be released from deten­tion out­right or giv­en access to com­mu­ni­ty-based alter­na­tives to deten­tion, such as report­ing oblig­a­tions, finan­cial deposits, guar­an­tors, and elec­tron­ic mon­i­tor­ing.

No Life for a Child’” is based on IHRP inter­views with detained moth­ers and chil­dren, as well as men­tal health experts, social work­ers, child rights activists, and legal pro­fes­sion­als. The report pro­files chil­dren, includ­ing infants, who lived in deten­tion or were sep­a­rat­ed from their fam­i­lies. The report

finds that con­di­tions of deten­tion are woe­ful­ly unsuit­ed for chil­dren. Immi­gra­tion Hold­ing Cen­tres resem­ble medi­um-secu­ri­ty pris­ons, with sig­nif­i­cant restric­tions on pri­va­cy and lib­er­ty, inad­e­quate access to edu­ca­tion, insuf­fi­cient recre­ation­al oppor­tu­ni­ties  and poor nutri­tion.

One of the chil­dren pro­filed in the report, Michel (not his real name), spent the first 28 months of his life liv­ing under these con­di­tions  in a Toron­to deten­tion facil­i­ty. Michel’s moth­er was detained when she was two-months preg­nant, because Cana­da Bor­der Ser­vices Agency (CBSA) sus­pect­ed that she was

a flight risk. After giv­ing birth to Michel, the two con­tin­ued to be detained for near­ly three years before

they were deport­ed in late 2015. Accord­ing to Michel’s moth­er, although Michel was a Cana­di­an cit­i­zen, “he lives the same life as a detained child.”

Accord­ing to med­ical experts, immi­gra­tion deten­tion caus­es seri­ous and last­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal  harm to chil­dren, includ­ing depres­sion, anx­i­ety, post-trau­mat­ic stress, and sui­ci­dal ideation. The report finds that it is the fact of deten­tion — not just the con­di­tions of deten­tion — that is fun­da­men­tal­ly harm­ful to children’s well-being. The report also finds that fam­i­ly sep­a­ra­tion is not an ade­quate alter­na­tive to

child deten­tion because it caus­es sig­nif­i­cant psy­cho­log­i­cal  dis­tress, and may expose chil­dren to the hard­ships of the child wel­fare sys­tem. Instead, the report rec­om­mends that fam­i­lies should be giv­en access to com­mu­ni­ty-based alter­na­tives to deten­tion.

The report builds upon years of advo­ca­cy by refugee and child rights groups in Cana­da that have called on the gov­ern­ment to ensure that children’s best inter­ests are a pri­ma­ry con­sid­er­a­tion in deci­sions affect­ing them, and ulti­mate­ly, to end child deten­tion and fam­i­ly sep­a­ra­tion. Inter­na­tion­al bod­ies have also repeat­ed­ly crit­i­cized Cana­da for its immi­gra­tion deten­tion prac­tices.

The report notes recent ini­tia­tives by Canada’s fed­er­al gov­ern­ment and CBSA indi­cat­ing a strong will­ing­ness to reform the immi­gra­tion deten­tion regime, with a par­tic­u­lar view to pro­tect­ing  chil­dren and address­ing men­tal health issues. The gov­ern­ment has also expressed an inten­tion to engage exten­sive­ly with non-gov­ern­men­tal  orga­ni­za­tions and oth­er civ­il soci­ety stake­hold­ers in the process of revis­ing rel­e­vant pol­i­cy and design­ing new pro­grams.

The report pro­vides rec­om­men­da­tions  on pol­i­cy and leg­isla­tive reforms, and builds upon the rec­om­men­da­tions  of the IHRP’s 2015 report,  We Have No Rights’: Arbi­trary impris­on­ment and cru­el treatment of migrants with men­tal health issues in Cana­da.” Giv­en the exist­ing dis­cre­tion under the law, author­i­ties can imple­ment these rec­om­men­da­tions  in prac­tice even before legal changes are com­plet­ed.

“After years of silence and inac­tion, the Cana­di­an gov­ern­ment and CBSA are tak­ing seri­ous steps that will hope­ful­ly bring us clos­er to end­ing child deten­tion and fam­i­ly sep­a­ra­tion,” said Han­na Gros, IHRP Senior Fel­low and co-author of the report. “But Ottawa needs to move quick­ly and delib­er­ate­ly to end the need­less suf­fer­ing of chil­dren and their par­ents.”


No Life for a Child’: A Roadmap to End Immi­gra­tion Deten­tion of Chil­dren and Fam­i­ly Sep­a­ra­tion,” is avail­able for down­load here:

PROMOTE ON SOCIAL MEDIA: @IHRP_UofT; #End­Child­De­ten­tion

Sam­ple tweets to coin­cide with release on Sept 22:

New IHRP Report: @Can­Border should imple­ment alter­na­tives to child immi­gra­tion deten­tion & fam­i­ly sep­a­ra­tion

Hun­dreds of chil­dren held in Cana­di­an immi­gra­tion deten­tion since 2010, includ­ing Cana­di­ans


IHRP Report: Chil­dren need pro­tec­tion in com­mu­ni­ty-based alter­na­tives to immi­gra­tion deten­tion & fam­i­ly sep­a­ra­tion #End­ChildDetention

Immi­gra­tion deten­tion of chil­dren does not increase pub­lic safe­ty, but harms chil­dren & fam­i­lies


Oth­er rel­e­vant Twit­ter han­dles:
@CanBorder, @Safety_Canada, @CitImmCanada, @RalphGoodale, @HonJohnMcCallum, @UTLaw

For more infor­ma­tion and to arrange for inter­views, con­tact:

Kara Nor­ring­ton
Pro­gram Assis­tant
Inter­na­tion­al Human Rights Pro­gram Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to, Fac­ul­ty of Law
(416) 946‑7831

Lucian­na Cic­co­ciop­po
Direc­tor, Exter­nal Rela­tions
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to, Fac­ul­ty of Law
(416) 946‑0334