Canada: Canada's Immigration Detainees: Locked Up By Dodgy Risk Assessments

Last Updated: August 2 2017
Article by Devry Smith Frank LLP

A recent blog post highlighted an immigration detainee that went to court to fight for his release after being locked up for 4 years while awaiting deportation. For more information on that story, please click here to read our blog.

Now, a Star investigation further into this matter reveals that detainees are being locked up based on dodgy risk assessments.

Immigration detainees are essentially defined as individuals that are non-citizens, whom the government believes will not show up for their deportation. They wear jumpsuits, orange in colour, and can be subjected to routine strip searches. Kept in maximum-security provincial jails, they spend 18 to 24 hours a day in their cells, even if they are no criminal record. These individuals are also detained indefinitely.

Unfortunately, there is no legislation governing where the detainees must be placed, so their fate is held by the border services officers once someone has been ordered to be detained by the quasi-judicial Immigration and Refugee Board.

In our previous article, The Star profiles a detainee, Ebrahim Toure, who is the longest held detainee currently imprisoned. The reason for his detention in a maximum-security centre is that the government fears he is not going to show up for his deportation, even though he has cooperated with the government, providing them with all of his information, documentation, and has even stated he wishes to be deported.

Now, with new developments in The Star's investigations revealing that the risk assessments done on these detainees are quite dodgy, especially considering someone like Toure is in detention with no criminal record in Canada, can be quite worrisome.

Many of Canada's Border Police lack the expertise to assess risk posed by immigration detainees, as revealed by documents obtained by The Star which were filed in federal court. With such a crucial downfall for the Border Police being exposed to the public, it makes you wonder how many detainees have been wrongfully placed in detention due to unqualified officers' assessments.

Considering detainees can be held indefinitely even though they pose no threat to our society, or may have been cooperative with the government the entire time, something needs to be done. Lawyer Jared Will has been fighting for detainees in the past, and is currently assisting Toure fight for his release and represented Alvin Brown for his deportation.

With the current spotlight  of The Star's investigation on the risk assessment for Kyon Ferril's detention from 2015, a risk assessment was provided to the court filled out by one Canada Border Services Agency officer. The officer wrote,

"I am not a medical or mental health professional... I have not received any training on the completion of this form. This assessment is cursory in nature and should not be construed as an accurate representation of the subject's risk of mental health status."

This not only raises concern about the qualifications of our border officers, but also may cause people to question the legitimacy of theses assessments – especially if almost every form was filled out as such, and still led to these individuals in question to be detained.

How many people are detained that don't pose a threat to society? How many don't have a criminal record but are detained? How many of them really won't show up for their deportation?

It might be hard to find a legitimate answer to those questions once you factor in the possibility that many of these assessments may be inadequately completed, or false.

Unfortunately, the above statement that was on the form for one detainee, Kyon Ferril, caused him to continue serving his indefinite detention in a maximum-security jail, rather than being sent to a less-restrictive facility.

The government has three medium-security facilities which are mainly used for immigration detention, however, once an assessment is done and the detainee is deemed "high risk" they are immediately sent to a maximum-security provincial jail.

The assessments in question are known as the National Risk Assessment for Detention (NRAD). This form is used when someone is first incarcerated and once complete, will provide their classification (high, medium, low) which then determines how they are to be dealt with. Per the policy, this form should be reassessed every 60 days.

As a result of the NRAD, a majority of the detainees end up in jails alongside the criminal population, when many should be in the medium or low-security jails. Most of which are held there indefinitely while detained (if they are ever deported or released).

Back in May, there was a fight against indefinite detention, for more information please see this article.

Ebrahim Toure, the detainee profiled by The Star as mentioned earlier, is being represented by Jared Will, who has been in a constant battle with Canada's immigration system and often representing detainees looking to fight for their release, transfer to a less restrictive facility, or even to be deported back to their home country. Will also expresses his disapproval during his cases, and has chimed in about how the officers fill out these forms. He's shocked by the "lack of competence" of the officers.

Considering these officers hold the power to determine how one must live until they are dealt with by the government, deciding people's basic liberty and security interests, Will is appalled by the administrative process.

From the officer's form that was submitted to court, you can clearly see and understand that the officer had an issue with the task they were given. The statement essentially says that they don't know what they're doing, and that the information the officer is providing is not reliable.

As The Star dug deeper into the assessment forms, they found "shoddy, inaccurate form completion", something that should be alarming, considering, as stated before, they determine where someone is going to be held indefinitely.

A couple of things they noted from reviewing the forms were:

  • Key sections left entirely blank
  • Both "no" and "unknown" boxes ticked on questions about mental illness and medication
  • Long gaps in time between assessments

For two former detainees, Alvin Brown (deported) and Ferril (on strict bail) their assessment forms were accurate with the points listed above.

Due to the realization of this horrible practice by Canada's Border officers, the CBSA will be improving their NRAD form, protocol changes are in the works, training will take place (beginning this summer), and policy will now require the officers provide detainees with a copy of the assessment once completed.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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