Immigration minister responds to critics over plan to detain migrants in penitentiaries

Immigration Minister Marc Miller confirmed to Radio-Canada that the federal government will be using its penitentiaries to hold some foreign nationals for immigration purposes.He said those detainees will be separated from the prison population, but that both groups could be sharing services.”It would be separate housing and it would not be in the general population, because they are not criminals,” Miller said, following Radio-Canada’s story on the government’s proposal buried at the bottom of the federal budget tabled Tuesday.The Trudeau government wrote it wants to “enable the use of federal correctional facilities for the purpose of high-risk immigration detention.”The statement has angered human rights organizations, some calling the plan “completely unacceptable,” as reported by Radio-Canada Wednesday.A sign outside the Collins Bay Institution in Kingston, Ont. is shown in this photo from May 17, 2023. (Dan Taekema/CBC)According to Miller, the government had no choice but to use penitentiaries after provinces indicated, one after another, that they would no longer detain migrants in their jails on behalf of the federal government.Miller described those immigration detainees as “high-risk,” often with “severe mental health problems” and facing deportation orders.He says the government wants to “strike the proper notes of preserving the respect and dignity of the people that are being detained, but also keeping Canadians safe.””It’s a very small segment of the population,” he added.The federal government already has three immigration holding centres in Toronto, Laval, Que., and Surrey, B.C., that serve as detention centres.But given the expected volume of migrants, the government must provide other infrastructures, said the minister.The Bowden Institution in Innisfail, Alta., is a federal penitentiary. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)Trailers for detained migrantsMiller would not offer any details about deadlines, types of housing or the federal prisons that will hold the immigration detainees.But contracts dated May 2023 on the CanadaBuys website showed the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) planned to install trailers to detain migrants on the Bowden Institution site, a federal prison in Innisfail, Alta.Contracts dated May 2023 on the CanadaBuys website showed that the Canada Border Services Agency planned to install trailers to detain migrants on the site of Bowden Institution. (CanadaBuys website)In response to Radio-Canada’s questions about these contracts last month, the CBSA stated that it had put an end to this project.The federal agency also suggested that it was turning mainly to its holding centres to compensate for provinces withdrawing from immigration detention.

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