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Canada is releasing immigration detainees at ‘unprecedented’ rates amid COVID-19 fears – Global News



The number of immigration detainees held in provincial jails and immigration holding centres across Canada has dropped by more than half since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, according to data provided to Global News.

And recent decisions from the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB), the administrative tribunal that presides over immigration refugee matters, show how fears over COVID-19 are playing a significant role in some rulings to release immigration detainees.

On March 17, there were 353 immigration detainees held in provincial jails and immigration holding centres across Canada, according to data from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).

By April 19, that number dropped by more than half to 147 detainees, 117 of whom were being held in provincial jails. The remaining 30 were held in one of Canada’s three immigration holding centres located in Toronto, Laval, Que., and Surrey, B.C.

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READ MORE: The number of detainees held in Canada’s immigration holding centres is declining amid COVID-19 fears

“We would never normally see such a dramatic drop in detention (detainees) in such a short period of time. That’s unprecedented,” said Swathi Sekhar, an immigration and refugee lawyer based in Toronto. 

A number of legal and advocacy groups have been calling for the release of immigration detainees and people held in jails and prisons who are not deemed risks to public safety due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in these facilities, and the conditions there that make it difficult to isolate and control the spread of infection.

The majority of the immigration detainees held in jails are located in Ontario, which has been grappling with COVID-19 cases in its correctional facilities. Thousands of inmate in Ontario jails have been released in recent weeks as the province grapples with the outbreak.

Thirty-three of the 117 immigration detainees held in provincial jails as of April 19 were detained at the Maplehurst Correctional Complex in Milton, a combined maximum-security jail for remanded prisoners and a medium/maximum-security jail for convicted offenders serving sentences of less than two years.

READ MORE: COVID-19 not a ‘get-out-of-jail-free card,’ B.C. judge rules

Foreign nationals and permanent residents can be detained — sometimes indefinitely — by CBSA officers if the person is deemed unlikely to appear for an immigration proceeding like a hearing, if the person is deemed a threat to public safety or if the person’s identity is under question. Most detainees are held on the grounds that they are unlikely to appear for proceedings or because of questions over their identity.

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Immigration detainees are held on administrative and not criminal grounds like a typical jail or prison inmate. Immigration detainees can be held in one of Canada’s three immigration holding centres, which resemble medium-security prisons, or in provincial jails across the country, depending on the circumstances of their case, or if there is no immigration holding centre in that part of the country.

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Last month, the Canadian government enacted an emergency order under the Quarantine Act that prohibits entry by individuals into Canada for the purpose of claiming refugee protection.

This new order has reduced the number (of) asylum seekers remaining in Canada or being detained,” a CBSA spokesperson said in an email. “Also, since a lot of our admissions into (immigration holding centres) or provincial facilities are directly related to traveller volumes, it is not unexpected to see the overall number of admissions go down.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus fears spark calls for migrants to be released from B.C. holding centre

Recent detention review decisions provided to Global News from the IRB show how COVID-19 is being factored into determining whether or not to release someone from immigration detention. 

One IRB decision from April 3 involves a Colombian man who had been detained in the Toronto immigration holding centre since Jan. 23 because he was deemed a danger to the public and unlikely to appear for his removal from Canada to Colombia. However, he was released on a bond in large part due to the risk of being exposed to COVID-19 while in detention. He was ordered to abide by a number of strict conditions as part of his release.

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The IRB decision-maker, Jacqueline Swaisland, stated that the man, Angelo Rincon, has a history of non-compliance with immigration laws “at least in three countries” and has also violated criminal laws in Canada and the United States. This includes a conviction for possessing a controlled substance for the purpose of selling, another conviction related to a number of break-and-enters in the Greater Toronto Area last year and possession of property obtained by crime.

The decision-maker said that while Rincon was deemed a danger to the public due to his criminal history, “I find the danger that you pose to be at the low end of the spectrum” because of the limited sentences he had received for his convictions, his “stated remorse under sworn testimony” and “the fact that there has been no violence in the commission of any of the offences you have been involved in…”  

COVID-19: Preventing prison outbreaks in Canada

COVID-19: Preventing prison outbreaks in Canada

In determining whether to release Rincon from detention, Swaisland stated that Rincon had already been held in detention for more than two months, something that weighs in his favour, and “with respect to anticipated length of detention [it’s] agreed by all parties that at this point it is unknown because of the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

“And it could be long given Canada is currently not enforcing removals and given that Columbia is not permitting the repatriation of even (its) own nationals and it is not clear how long that will go on for given the current COVID-19 pandemic,” Swaisland stated.

Last month, the CBSA temporarily halted deportations of people whose refugee or immigration claims had been rejected, with the exception of serious criminal cases that will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. 

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The decision goes on to note that Rincon’s counsel provided “significant documentation” on the risks that someone in detention faces and his own fears associated with his potential exposure to the virus in the facility due to an underlying condition. TVO reported last month that an employee at the Toronto holding centre had contracted COVID-19 and had been in self-isolation. 

“I find that the risk that you face are not at the same level of detainees in correctional facilities (particularly) given that there is such a limited number of the detainees currently being housed at the immigration holding centre, 15 as of today and given the significant steps that are being taken to reduce the risks to individuals being detained at the holding centre currently,” Rincon’s decision states. 

“(But) even though the immigration holding centre is taking significant precautions, they are not perfect. And you still have a high risk of exposure and significant restrictions on your ability to self-isolate in a manner that the documentary evidence seems to suggest that is required with this virus.”

Correctional Service of Canada takes steps to prevent COVID-19 entering prisons

Correctional Service of Canada takes steps to prevent COVID-19 entering prisons

COVID-19 is also cited in an IRB decision from March 30 involving a Chilean woman who had been detained at the Toronto immigration holding centre since March 17 because she was deemed unlikely to appear for her immigration proceedings. The decision states that the woman may be released from detention as long as she abides by a number of conditions, including living at a shelter and reporting regularly to the CBSA.

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Her identity and some of the details of the decision are redacted, as she has a pending refugee claim, which is subject to privacy rules. The decision notes that the woman’s refugee claim is on hold for the time being, and proceedings will resume “once the pandemic is addressed and the Immigration and Refugee Board begins to hear and process claims again.”

“You are now waiting for your (refugee) hearing which under normal circumstances can be a long process and everything is delayed now due to the pandemic,” the decision-maker, Julia Huys, said to the woman.

READ MORE: Judges release growing number accused of violent crimes due to COVID-19 fears

Huys goes on to describe the elevated risk of exposure to COVID-19 among detainees. 

“I am taking note that the conditions in the immigration holding centre may be better than provincial jail but I find only slightly,” Huys said.

“So detained people will come into contact with many others including detainees, other detainees, guards, staff, and movement in and out of people … from the immigration holding centre. And I am also taking very seriously the fact that there has now been a case of COVID-19 at the immigration holding centre with one of the staff.”

An IRB spokesperson said in an email to Global News that it’s “open to decision-makers to consider any relevant factors in determining whether detention is justified, including COVID-19 and its potential risks to detained individuals.” 

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The IRB also noted that its immigration division is “entertaining requests from parties for early detention reviews, for example to consider alternatives where the person detained may have a vulnerability that places them at elevated risk from the virus or any cases with an alternative to detention.”

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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In their own words: political leaders in Canada weigh in on Trump's response to U.S. protests –



Canadian political leaders are weighing in on U.S. President Donald Trump’s handling of anti-racism protests sweeping across the United States in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of law enforcement.

While most leaders were reluctant to single out Trump by name, both Nova Scotia’s premier and Ottawa’s mayor had plenty to say about behaviour that they described as “offensive” and “disgraceful.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Asked about U.S. President Donald Trump threatening the use of military force against protestors in the United States, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paused for 21 seconds before saying “we all watch in horror and consternation.” He did not comment on Trump. 2:59

Trudeau’s answer to a question about Trump’s decision to have protesters moved with tear gas and riot police — so he could have his picture taken outside a church — has been talked about more for what he didn’t say than for what he did say.

The prime minister took 21 seconds to think before delivering an answer that focused on the discrimination faced by people of colour in Canada.

When pressed further to respond to Trump’s threat to call in the military into deal with protesters, the prime minister said his focus was on Canadians, not United States domestic politics.

“My job as a Canadian prime minister is to stand up for Canadians, to stand up for our interests, to stand up for our values,” he said. “That is what have done from the very beginning, that is what I will continue to do.”

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland

Asked why the government won’t criticize U.S. President Donald Trump by name over his threats to use the army against protesters, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland avoided talking about the president and said she’s worried about “Canadian complacency” regarding anti-black racism. 2:09

The deputy prime minister followed Trudeau’s position closely, noting that Canada has its own problems with anti-black racism and unconscious bias.

“What I am concerned about, actually, is Canadian complacency. I think that it’s really, really important for us to set our own house in order and for us to really be aware of the pain that anti-black racism causes here in our own country,” she said.

“We as Canadians, all of us, need to take this very traumatic moment for many people in the world as an opportunity to look at what we are doing in Canada and to work hard to do better.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford

Ontario Premier Doug Ford weighs in on the violent protests that have swept the United States after George Floyd died at the hands of law enforcement. 1:22

Ford also avoided directly criticizing how the United States’ leadership has handled the protests, but he did say that he is glad to live in a country that doesn’t suffer from the same racial divisions and systemic racism seen in the U.S.

“They have their issues in the U.S. and they have to fix their issues, but it’s like night and day compared to Canada,” Ford said. “I’m proud to be Canadian. I’m proud to be the premier of Ontario.

“Thank God that we’re different than the United States. We don’t have the systemic, deep roots they’ve had for years … The difference between the U.S. and Canada, for the most part, for the most part — we get along.”

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil 

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil weighs in on the quality of political leadership in the United States amid wide-spread violent protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of police. 0:23

McNeil offered a less diplomatic comment when speaking about Floyd’s death and the Trump administration’s response to the protests that followed.

“When you watch what’s happened south of the border, where a black American was killed at the hands of law enforcement, you understand the outrage and hurt and anger that people are feeling,” he said. 

“Quite frankly, the political response in the United States has been offensive … to the world.”

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson weighs in on the Trump administration’s response to the anti-racism protests that have swept across the United States 0:42

Watson offered what may have been some of the sharpest criticism of the Trump administration coming from a Canadian politician — singling out the president by name and calling his behaviour throughout the crisis “disgraceful.”

“I think it was disgraceful. Clearing out peaceful protesters so he could have a photo-op holding a Bible,” said Watson. 

“Presidents and leaders of organizations should be calming the waters and instill a sense of hope, and not [creating] greater chaos. What we’ve seen in the United States is both sad and remarkable but unfortunately, with this president, somewhat predictable.

“He seems to like to take gas and throw it on the fire.”

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'Set our own house in order': Political leaders on racism in Canada – CTV News



As protests spurred by the police-involved death of George Floyd in Minneapolis continue across the United States, federal Canadian politicians delivered special take-note speeches in the House of Commons on Tuesday, calling out the ongoing inequalities in this country and imploring Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to go beyond “pretty words.”

Trudeau led off the series of speeches with an acknowledgement of anti-black racism in Canada and his own past shortcomings, which included wearing blackface on more occasions than he could concretely say.  

“When it comes to being an ally, I have made serious mistakes in the past, mistakes which I deeply regret and continue to learn from… I’m not perfect, but not being perfect is not a free pass to not do the right thing,” Trudeau said.

“I know that for so many people listening right now, the last thing you want to hear is another speech on racism from a white politician,” said the prime minister, adding that the reason he was delivering his speech was to make it clear that the government is listening.

Trudeau said that Canadians who are standing up in this moment and all those who have “felt the weight of oppression” deserve better, committing to working with the opposition parties on eradicating racism in Canada.


However, Trudeau faced questions over the course of the day about the government’s existing policies and whether he was prepared to go further than he’s previously committed to when it comes to addressing the existing inequalities within Canadian society.

Not long after taking a lengthy pause in responding to a question about U.S. President Donald Trump’s calls for military action against protesters, Trudeau was asked what his government intends on doing to improve the situation in Canada.

Specifically, he was asked about a 2017 UN Human Rights Council report on the experiences of African Canadians. 

The report recommended that the federal government issue an apology and consider providing reparations for enslavement and other historical injustices. Asked if his government intended on doing either, the prime minister could not say.

His response went over the work his government has done and continues to do with the black community as well as the funding being put towards countering systemic and institutional racism and discrimination, but he did not commit to a national apology, something he’s done several times over his tenure as the prime minister for other injustices faced by Canadians.

“We will work with the black community across this country as we have to respond to their priorities. There is a lot to do in Canada and we will do it in partnership with them,” he said.


In the House of Commons, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh challenged Trudeau to use his position of power to “go beyond pretty words, and pretty speeches, and do something.”

Singh, who is the first person of colour to lead a major federal political party in Canada, said that if Trudeau believes that black lives matter, he should commit to ending racial profiling, and the over-incarceration of black people in Canada.

He also noted the ongoing racial inequalities faced by Indigenous people in Canada and called on Trudeau to stop the court proceedings challenging the federal government’s need to compensate First Nations kids affected by a discriminatory child welfare system; and to ensure access to clean water, housing, and education.

“Why do black people, why do Indigenous people need to keep on asking to be treated like a human? Why? You know, people are done with pretty speeches, particularly pretty speeches from people in power that could do something about it right now if they wanted to,” he said.


Demonstrations have been taking place in Canadian cities including Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal, in solidarity with those decrying anti-black racism in the United States.

Asked why neither she nor Trudeau said Trump’s name or addressed his leadership decisions during their comments on Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said her focus is on addressing “Canadian complacency.”

“I think that it’s really, really important for us to set our own house in order and for us to really be aware of the pain that anti-black racism causes here in our own country, of the reality that we do have systemic discrimination here in Canada,” Freeland said. “I think that we as Canadians, all of us, need to take this very traumatic moment for many people in the world as an opportunity to look at what we are doing in Canada and to work hard to do better.”


During his address, outgoing Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said that Canada “was a beacon of freedom to so many escaping slavery,” and that the country has benefitted as a result, offering examples of Canadians who “overcame” and went on to serve their communities. These include Lincoln Alexander, who was elected in 1968 and was the first black MP and eventually became the first black cabinet minister; and Viola Desmond who challenged segregation and is now pictured on Canadian $10 bills. 

“While there are many things that we can point to in our history with pride, that is not to say that we have a perfect record, nor are immune to the threat of racism or that anti-black racism is just an American problem. Canada has had its own dark episodes of racism that cannot be ignored, and sadly not just in our past,” Scheer said.

“No one should be attacked in their community or targeted on the bus because of the colour of their skin,” he said, adding that the fight against any efforts to infringe upon freedoms needs to continue.

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet echoed Singh’s calls for political leadership to go beyond words, and suggested the first concrete measure the federal government could take would be to accelerate the processing of asylum claims.

Elizabeth May

Green Party parliamentary leader Elizabeth May concluded the series of special addresses with an emotional request to her MP colleagues: “We can look at our own conduct and our own behavior… When you see a bully, when you hear hate speech, we have to speak up. We have to speak out,” she said.

“Black lives matter. I want to just do nothing but chant it in this place until we stand together and say black lives matter,” May said.  

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Ontario confirms 446 new COVID-19 cases, Ford poised to extend state of emergency –



The Ontario legislature voted on Tuesday to extend the state of emergency until June 30.

The vote came after the Ontario health ministry reported 446 additional cases of COVID-19, a number that represents a 1.6 per cent increase in total cases.

Ontario’s network of about 20 labs, meanwhile, processed 15,244 test samples on Monday, a second straight day below its own target of 16,000.

The system has capacity to handle as many as 25,000 tests on any given day, according the Ministry of Health.The backlog of test samples waiting to be processed grew to 10,622.

Last week, Premier Doug Ford had expressed optimism that an increase in testing could help facilitate a regional reopening of Ontario. But the province failed to meet its testing benchmark more than half the time throughout May.

The new cases bring the total number since the outbreak began in late January to 28,709. Some 78.3 per cent of those are now resolved.

Yesterday, CBC News revealed that hundreds of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Toronto area were not flagged to public health officials because of a mixup between two hospitals. It meant that thousands of contacts of confirmed cases were not traced for weeks.

It’s not clear how many of those cases may have been included in today’s figures.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said the mistake “has been rectified to make sure it won’t happen again,” but she added that everyone who gets tested can go online to receive their diagnosis without waiting for a call from a public health employee. 

Elliott said the province is following up now with contact tracing and case management services.

“This is something that has been dealt with, and this will not be happening again,” she said at a news conference on Tuesday. 

The Ministry of Health’s official death toll grew by 17 to 2,293. But the real COVID-19 death toll is at least 2,345, according to a CBC News count based on data from regional public health units.

About 79.5 per cent of all deaths were residents of long-term care homes. The province has tracked outbreaks of the novel coronavirus in 309 of Ontario’s 630 long-term care facilities.

Patient ombudsman starts new investigation into long-term care

This morning, the office of Ontario’s Patient Ombudsman said it would be investigating the “resident and caregiver experience” in long-term care homes after receiving 150 complaints. The announcement follows an investigation into provincial oversight at the facilities launched yesterday by the Ontario Ombudsman.

“Complaints from residents, family members and whistleblowers pointed to a crisis in Ontario’s long-term care homes,” the office said in a statement.

The Patient Ombudsman is not an independent officer of the legislature, but works for the government.

The role of patient ombudsman has been vacant for two years, since now-Health Minister Christine Elliott quit to return to politics.

The Ontario ombudsman investigation will look at systemic aspects of long-term care including complaint handling, emergency planning, data collection, infection and death rates and communication with residents, staff and the public.

Meanwhile, the number of patients in Ontario hospitals with confirmed cases of COVID-19 increased by 20, up to 801, but remains at levels last seen in mid-April.

Hospital to take over Kitchener long-term care home

Ontario’s Ministry of Long-Term Care on Tuesday issued a mandatory management order appointing St. Mary’s General Hospital in Kitchener to temporarily manage Forest Heights Revera for 90 days. 

The order may be extended beyond the 90 days, if necessary, the ministry said in a news release.

The ministry noted that despite receiving hospital support for weeks, Forest Heights has been unable to contain the spread of COVID-19. 

Since April 1, the home has seen 175 positive cases in residents, 69 cases in staff members and 51 deaths.

State of emergency extended for another 28 days

Ontario’s emergency measure bans gatherings larger than five people. It also orders the closure of some businesses such as restaurants and bars, except if they offer takeout or delivery.

The vote on Tuesday means the state of emergency has been extended for another 28 days.

Independent legislator Randy Hillier said he was going to vote against the measure, saying it gives the government too much authority.

Ontario declared a state of emergency on March 17 as COVID-19 cases began to climb in the province.

At a news conference Tuesday, Premier Ford said the extension does not mean plans to reopen the province will remain on hold. Ford said his government is continuing to work on a plan for a regional, phased approach to reopening

“We need a plan that recognizes the reality on the ground, in different parts of our province,” Ford told reporters. 

He advocated for a “plan that will help us re-open safely without taking unnecessary risks,” adding that a second wave of the virus “is possible, so we must remain vigilant.”

Provincial health officials will not be holding their own news conference today. The Ministry of Health said yesterday that those briefings will now be held twice weekly, on Mondays and Thursday, as opposed to five times per week.

All Service Ontario locations to open ‘in the next couple of weeks’: Ford

Long lines have been seen outside many Service Ontario locations across the province because many have closed or drastically reduced their hours. 

Last month, the government was urging people to stay away unless absolutely necessary.

But on Tuesday, Ford said all locations should open up “in the next couple of weeks.” 

He urged people to go online until then.

“Beat the line up, and you can pretty well get everything online,” he said. 

To help ease the lineups, the province has extended expiry dates on a number of items, including driver’s licences, health cards and vehicle plate stickers. Many services can now be accessed online, including licence and health card renewals, as well as birth, death and marriage certificates.

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