June 2015  – Researchers made a strong call to develop and implement alternatives to detention in Canada, as part of the recommendations that were published in two recent studies: one sharing the experiences of asylum-seeking children in detention and the other about treatment of detained migrants with mental health issues.

The first study, Asylum-seeking children experiences of detention in Canada: A qualitative study presents findings  from interviews with children and families who have sought asylum in Canada but are being held in immigration detention. The study cites estimates of approximately 650 children detained in Canada each year and asserts that:

Detention is “a frightening experience of deprivation that leaves children feeling criminalized and helpless”  (p. 1).

Researchers interviewed 20 families who shared stories of how they had fled persecution and violence only to end up in detention, some for almost a year. The study documents family separation caused by detention, the lack of acceptable education for detained children, and the negative effects detention has on children’s emotional well-being.

Children refused to eat, became depressed or nervous, saying detention made them feel like a “caged animal” (10-year-old girl). Even upon release, these effects persisted, as an 11-year-old explained, “I am afraid of being separated from my parents and going back to jail.”

This study provides additional evidence of the need to end immigration detention of children, as researchers conclude that:

“Children should not be held in immigration detention and should be protected from family separations precipitated by detention” (p. 13)

The second report, “We Have No Rights”: Arbitrary Imprisonment and Cruel Treatment of Migrants with Mental Health Issues in Canada finds that the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) routinely detains migrants with mental health issues in maximum-security jails—sometimes for years—despite their vulnerable and non-criminal status.

The report explained that outside of Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, all detainees are held in jails since there are no dedicated facilities to house migrants; and although many detainees have no past criminal record, they are detained on the basis that they are a flight risk, or because their identity cannot be confirmed. In detention, migrants have extremely limited means to exercise their legal rights and lack adequate mental health resources to allow them to get better.

The report also includes “voice from the inside” or testimonies from detained migrant men and women who feel further marginalized and discriminated against on account of their health needs.

I am an immigrant here;” “we have no rights;” “they look at us … like criminals;” “they treat us like garbage;” we are “not treated like humans” (p. 18).

The report includes a list of targeted recommendations aimed at lawmakers, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and the provinces, and asserts that:

The Canadian government should “Meaningfully explore, assess, and implement alternatives to detention that build on the positive best practices already in place in other jurisdictions, and especially in respect of vulnerable migrants, but which do not extend enforcement measures against people who would otherwise be released” (p. 9).


Read the full reports:

R. Kronick, C. Rousseau & J. Cleveland. Asylum-seeking children experiences of detention in Canada: A qualitative studyAmerican Journal of Orthopsychiatry. 05/2015; 85(3):287-294.

See the related news article: What are babies doing behind bars in Canada?

H. Gros & P. van Groll. “We Have No Rights”: Arbitrary Imprisonment and Cruel Treatment of Migrants with Mental Health Issues in Canada. International Human Rights Program, University of Toronto Faculty of Law.