A family walking on a railroad track with few luggages
Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Dilemmatic Adjudication: Europe’s Refugee Crisis and the Question of Migrant Rights

While recently making major headlines, the arrival of substantive numbers of asylum seekers to Europe has been a pressing political issue for a longer time. This presentation will discuss the role of law in this context as being torn between, on the one hand, increasingly restrictive migration policies and, on the other hand, difficult individual situations…

‘Camps That Are Becoming Cities – Cities That Are Becoming Camps: The Case of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon and Jordan

The Oppenheimer Chair is pleased to welcome Faten Kikano, PhD Candidate in Environmental Design, from the Université de Montréal for a conference and a photo exhibition. Ms. Kikano will present her research and her photos about the life of  Syrian refugees in camps in Lebanon and Jordan. Join us for a lunch, a short conference…
Sonia Cancian Poster
Monday, 27 March 2017

The Power of Life Stories: Situating the Narratives of Migrants and Refugees within the Context of the Law

The Oppenheimer Chair and the McGill Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism are pleased to welcome Dr. Sonia Cancian, from Zayed University for a seminar on life stories of migrants and refugees and the law. This seminar will lead a discussion on life stories of migrants and refugees and their power (or not) within…
  Fence - Wire. Photo credit: Openphoto.net

Reforming Canada’s Immigration Detention Policy

Guest contribution by Vanessa C. Wachuku
18 July, 2016

The Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister, Ralph Goodale recently announced that Canada will review its immigration policy on the detention of foreign nationals by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) based on concerns regarding identity, flight risk or danger to the public. Foreign nationals are also detained if they are deemed inadmissible based on security reasons, criminality or violations of human and international rights[1]. If arrested under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), the person is either held in one of three Immigration Holding Centers across Canada or in a provincial jail or correctional facility pending a review by the Immigration Refugee Board (IRB). While Canada has historically detained foreign nationals with human rights advocates calling for changes to the policy, the recent[2] deaths of three foreign national detainees within a two month span from March to May of 2016, appear to be the catalyst that has opened a policy window[3] for the Canadian government to review and propose changes to its immigration detention regime. These changes include the immigration detention of children[4], the use of provincial jails to detain foreign nationals and the indefinite detention of foreign nationals without charge[5]. If adopted, these changes which are discussed below, will significantly reform Canada’s immigration detention policy.

Considering that child and youth advocates have been calling for an end to the immigration detention of children, Minister Goodale’s announcement to review the policy is of significance in light of extensive literature on the negative impact of immigration detention on children. According to a Canadian study published in 2015 by Kronick, Rousseau and Cleveland on the experiences of asylum seeking children in detention[6], children not only experience physical and psychological trauma while in detention but also experience long term effects from immigration detention. According to the recently released 2015 immigration detention data by the Canadian Council for Refugees[7], 82 children, not inclusive of children accompanying a parent in an immigration holding center, were detained for a total of 1,922 days. While some children are removed from Canada, others are released into the community. In light that these children may have experienced significant trauma arising from detention, social programs are implemented to support these children. The current policy design is confusing as while Canada detains children which may create or exacerbate physical and psychological concerns, it attempts to resolve these concerns through delivery of social programs. A policy reform that ends the immigration detention of children may address this policy problem that intersects between immigration and social policies and aligns with the recently released report by the United Nations Secretary General calling for States to end the immigration detention of children and adoption of alternatives to detention[8].

Minister Goodale’s announcement to review the use of medium-maximum provincial jails in detaining people that are held under IRPA is timely in light of outcry and petitions by human rights, legal and health advocates to end this practice[9].  Detaining foreign nationals in provincial jails that are operationalized under the Criminal Code criminalizes them. They are treated in the same manner as people who are convicted of a crime. A recent ruling by the Ontario Superior Court awarded $60,000 to an immigration detainee, Jamil Ogiamien, who has been in detention since 2013 at Maplehurst correctional complex. Although the immigration detainee was not in the medium-maximum provincial jail because of a criminal conviction[10] as he was in detention while waiting for a decision by the immigration officials[11], he was subjected to mandatory lockdown for almost half of the three years. The Superior Justice Douglas Gray ruled the lockdown was in violation of the immigration detainee’s right to freedom from cruel and unusual punishment.

These recent announcements on potential changes to Canada’s immigration detention regime highlight that Canada has finally recognized the policy issue of immigration detention which has been labelled, most recently by Stephanie Silverman and Petra Molnar, as a “black box”[13].  The adoption of alternatives to reduce and potentially end the immigration detention of foreign nationals, in particular children, will be a policy reform that human rights, legal, health and child & youth advocates should closely monitor.

Vanessa C. Wachuku is a PhD student in the Policy Studies Program specializing in the Immigration, Settlement and Diaspora Policies stream at Ryerson University.

[1] Canada Border Services Agency. “Arrests, Detention and Removal”, 04 January 2016, online: http://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/security-securite/arr-det-eng.html

[2] Muriel Draaisma, “Federal Government reviewing immigration detention process after strings of deaths”, CBC News 16 May 2016, online:  http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/public-safety-immigration-detention-1.3584700

[3] John Kingdon and James Thurber, “Agendas, Alternatives and Public Policies”: Longman, 2011

[4] The Canadian Press, “Liberals want to end jailing of child migrants, public safety minister says”, CBC News 30 May 2016, online: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/child-migrants-jail-end-goodale-1.3607712

[5] Michelle Zilio, “Ottawa to change migrant detention policy to reduce the use of provincial jails”, The Globe and Mail 15 June 2016, online: http://www.theglobeandmail.com//news/politics/ottawa-to-change-migrant-detention-policy-to-reduce-use-of-provincial-jails/article30482750/?cmpid=rss1

[6]  Rachel Kronick, Cecile Rousseau, and Janet Cleveland, “Asylum-seeking children’s experiences of detention in Canada: A qualitative study.” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, vol. 85, American Psychological Association, United States, 2015.

[7]Canadian Council for Refugees, ‘Immigration Detention Statistics 2015”, March 2016, online: http://ccrweb.ca/sites/ccrweb.ca/files/immigration-detention-statistics-2015.pdf.

[8] End Immigration Detention of Children. “End Immigration detention- United Nations Secretary General. 13 May 2016. online:  http://endchilddetention.org/end-child-detention-united-nations-secretary-general/

[9] Audrey Macklin, Raoul Boulakia and Barbara Jackman. “Media Release – Over 100 lawyers and legal scholars from across Ontario join call for Minister Naqvi to stop accepting immigration transfers to Ontario jails”. 26 May 2016. Online: https://stoptransferstojails.files.wordpress.com/2016/05/media-release-over-100-lawyers-and-legal-scholars-from-across-ontario-join-call-for-minister-naqvi-to-stop-accepting-immigration-transfers-to-ontario-jails.pdf

[10] Amy Dempsey, “Judge awards inmates $85,000 over lockdowns”. The Star 12 May 2016, online https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2016/05/12/judge-awards-ontario-inmates-85000-over-lockdowns.html

[11] Damian Hornich and Kevin A. McGivney, “Prison Lockdowns and Charter Damages: Ogiamien v Ontario 2016 ONSC 3080 (CanLII.)  25 May 2016, online http://canliiconnects.org/en/summaries/42111

[12] Geoffrey York, “Freed from Canadian Detention, South African man in Limbo”. The Globe and Mail 14 June 2016, online: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/freed-from-canadian-detention-south-african-man-left-in-limbo/article30462108/

[13] Stephanie Silverman and Petra Molnar, “Everyday Injustices: Barriers to Access to Justice for Immigration Detainees in Canada,” Refugee Survey Quarterly 2016: 35 (1): 109-127, http://rsq.oxfordjournals.org/content/35/1/109.abstract

  World Map Photo. Photo credit: Openphoto.net.

The Myth of Cosmopolitanism

NY Times Op-Ed
4 July, 2016

“Genuine cosmopolitanism is a rare thing. It requires comfort with real difference, with forms of life that are truly exotic relative to one’s own. It takes its cue from a Roman playwright’s line that “nothing human is alien to me,” and goes outward ready to be transformed by what it finds.

The people who consider themselves “cosmopolitan” in today’s West, by contrast, are part of a meritocratic order that transforms difference into similarity, by plucking the best and brightest from everywhere and homogenizing them into the peculiar species that we call “global citizens.”

This species is racially diverse (within limits) and eager to assimilate the fun-seeming bits of foreign cultures — food, a touch of exotic spirituality. But no less than Brexit-voting Cornish villagers, our global citizens think and act as members of a tribe.”

This short excerpt from this NY Times editorial contribution illustrates why cosmopolitan worldviews do not connect with most people. And why the human rights discourse as a key feature of this cosmopolitan identity is effectively rejected by a large part of the electorate when it doesn’t concern them directly and immediately.

  An English flag flew above a migrant camp in Calais, France, on Friday, after Britain voted to leave the European Union. Photo credit: Pascal Rossignol/Reuters

A Lesson from ‘Brexit’: On Immigration, Feelings Trumps Facts

27 June, 2016

“The progress of the last 50 years, particularly in Europe, has made it easy to buy into the idea that the forces of nationalism, xenophobia and prejudice are mere irrationalities, market distortions that will naturally fade away in the long arc of history.

Last week’s vote highlighted — not for the first time, but with unusual clarity — the hole in that theory. For many people, identity trumps economics. They will pay a high price (literally, in this case) to preserve a social order that makes them feel safe and powerful.”

This perceptive analysis teaches us that only allowing migrants to participate in political debates could stem the flow of fantasies and stereotypes which feed the populist fears – just as only women’s participation in political debates stemmed the flow of sexist prejudice over time – and offer mainstream politicians the space and tools to create a pro-migration, pro-mobility and pro-diversity discourse which would sound convincing during electoral campaign.

To read the full article by Amanda Taub in the NY Times, please click here.

  Some Muslim women in Belgium have protested against restrictions on wearing headscarves. Photo credit: BBC/Getty images

Top EU court adviser backs workplace Muslim headscarf ban – yet another intolerant opinion

31 May, 2016

In a controversial opinion issued to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), an Advocate General to the ECJ, Julianne Kokott, agreed that employers in the EU may be able to ban Muslim staff from wearing headscarves to work as long as it is part of a general prohibition on all religious symbols.

While this legal opinion is not binding, nor is it a final ruling of the ECJ, it is quite authoritative and once again sends an utterly wrong message. Instead of sending a message of openness and freedom first, with only individually and restrictively justified limitations, it sends out a message of religious intolerance aimed at only one religion, Islam. Because, frankly, who cares about small crosses on a chain or kipas? Sikh turbans however will be collateral damage to this ban.

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  La file d'attente pour le renouvellement des permis de séjour devant la préfecture de Lyon, le 16 février 2015. Crédit photo JEFF PACHOUD / AFP

Défenseur des droits report finds discrimination toward foreigners in France

28 May, 2016

An article in Le Monde reports that Le Défenseur des droits in France, in its last report, finds that foreigners, particularly refugees, are vulnerable to systemic discrimination in accessing their rights. The report is particularly relevant since it shows us that national human rights institutions and ombudspersons can document migrants’ rights violations. Their thorough investigations, detailed reporting and authoritative analysis add considerably to our common knowledge base and participate in changing the perceptions towards migrants.

For the report and its executive summary of Le Défenseur des droits (available in French only), please click here.