Macdonald Scott, Carranza LLP’s immigration consultant, has been busy. He was interviewed on CBC radio three times in one week and arranged another interview with the Toronto Star. All of this media attention came because he represents four of the detainees in Ontario immigration detention centres who went on a hunger strike to protest Canada’s lack of a presumptive period for immigration detainees (which means they can be held indefinitely).
As Mac explained in an article for our newsletter, Mosaic, two years ago: Most countries have a “presumptive period” – a period of time that a person without immigration status can be held in jail in order to deport them. In the US this is 90 days, with the possibility of a 90-day extension. In 2008, the Parliament of the European Union passed a Directive that set out standards for Member States in their treatment of ‘illegally staying third-country nationals’. Article 15 of the Directive states that the maximum period of detention pending deportation is six months.
But in Canada, there is no presumptive period - in other words - no limit to how long a person can be held in a immigration detention centre.
How does a person end up in one of these detention centres (where there are currently about 400 people in detention on a given day, in a similar situations)? Most were permanent residents who were convicted of a crime and therefore lost their permanent resident status. In some cases, the person is a foreign national convicted of a major crime. In all cases, the person is left effectively status-less, because they are no longer legally resident in Canada but also typically don’t have any ties to their ‘home’ country or their country of origin will not issue travel documents in order for Canada to deport them.
Canada is the only first world country that allows a person held for immigration reasons to be locked up indefinitely who is picked up for a crime. As Mac says, in this Guardian article, this makes Canada is a rogue nation.
The government points to a detention review that takes place every 30 days. But in order to be released at one of these reviews, a detainee needs to show “a compelling reason s/he should be released” i.e. usually they'd need to find someone to post a huge bail.
The recent hunger strike among detainees in the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ont., and the Toronto East Detention Centre in Scarborough raised awareness about this issue, obviously in a very serious way that risked the health of those involved. The hunger strikers (approximately 50 inmates in these detention centres) were emanding a meeting with the Minister of Public Safety & Preparedness Ralph Goodale, whose remit includes jails and detention centres. They want to limit detentions to 90 days and put a stop to holding immigration detainees in maximum security prisons.
How did Mac come to represent these clients for Carranza LLP? His story starts when he was working for Carranza as a paralegal and volunteering for the Ontario Coalition against poverty. He then moved to New York City for a time, where he worked for the National Lawyers Guild. On his return to Toronto, Juan Carranza suggested that Mac come back to Carranza as an immigration consultant. Although Carranza’s practice is focused on personal injury law, we work for many immigrants, and first and second generation Canadians who may need legal assistance with regard to their immigration status as well as or in addition to personal injury advice. Juan and Mac saw it as a natural fit.
Read this Toronto Star article that quotes Mac’s client, Alvin Brown, and listen here to Mac’s interview on the subject on Metro Morning and on Ontario Today.
If you are interested in learning more, visit endimmigrationdetention.com and truthaboutdetention.com.
*UPDATE* The hunger strike is now ended, but unfortunately the issue has not been resolved. Read this article about the end of the hunger strike and for details about how you can get involved and have your say.