Canada Keeps Children in Detention

The CCR Youth Network demands that the government of Canada STOP detaining children in immigration detention.


Many in Canada might be surprised to know that children are routinely held in immigration detention, for weeks and even months at a time.


For example:


  • In December 2008, 61 children were detained, 10 of them unaccompanied children (children who came to Canada without a parent or guardian).
  • At the end of 2008, a 16-year-old boy, also a refugee claimant, spent 25 days in detention. He suffered a lot in detention, lost weight and had nightmares. 
  • In the spring of 2009, a three-year-old boy was detained for 30 days with his mother when they made refugee claims in Canada. He had difficulty sleeping and eating while in detention. 
  • Over 40 children who arrived on BC shores by boat in the summer of 2010 (MV Sun Sea) were detained, although they had just spent 3 months on a dangerous boat trip. Over 4 months later, some of those children were still in detention.
Numbers of minors detained, monthly average
  2007 2008 2009 (Jan-Sept)
Atlantic 0 0 0
Prairies 1 1 0
Pacific 5 6 3
Quebec 7 13 10
Ontario 46 58 17
Total 58 77 31
It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
Canadian law says that children should only be detained as a measure of last resort. When deciding whether to detain, the best interests of the child must be taken into account.

What Canadian law says:  

“a minor child shall be detained only as a measure of last resort, taking into account the other applicable grounds and criteria including the best interests of the child.” (Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, section 60)


What actually happens in Canada:

The CCR has just published a report which shows that detention of children is NOT limited to exceptional circumstances and that their best interests are not always considered.

Bill C-31 (formerly Bill C-49 and Bill C-4), would require mandatory detention of some children (16-17 years old) for a year. That means that even if the immigration officials felt bad about it, they would have no choice but to lock up the children. This would violate Article 37 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.


What the UN Convention on the rights of the Child says about detention without review :

Article 37

(d) Every child deprived of his or her liberty shall have the right to prompt access to legal and other appropriate assistance, as well as the right to challenge the legality of the deprivation of his or her liberty before a court or other competent, independent and impartial authority, and to a prompt decision on any such action.

Why Are Children Detained?
Most children are detained for the following reasons:
Flight Risk: an immigration officer believes they may not present themselves in the future (they believe that they will try to escape immigration officers and stay in Canada living “underground” or without status)
Peter, aged 5, and Samuel, aged 3, were detained in the spring of 2009 with their mother, who was facing deportation to her country of origin in the Caribbean. They were detained on the grounds of flight risk: an immigration officer did not believe the mother would show up for removal. The family was deported after spending 11 weeks in detention.
Identity: an immigration officer is not satisfied of their identity.
Albert was 3 years old when he was detained in late 2008, along with his father, after they made a refugee claim at the immigration office in Montreal. They were detained on identity grounds. They had given identity documents to government officials, but these were considered insufficient to establish their identity. Albert and his father were released after 30 days in detention, once they had arranged for more identity documents to be sent.
Children in Detention but not "legally detained": In practice, children are frequently in detention with a parent even though they are not “legally detained”. This happens when the child is a Canadian citizen, or for other reasons doesn’t have a detention order against them. The child may nevertheless accompany the parent into detention, because that is supposedly the best or only option available. The law doesn’t list best interests of the child among the factors to be considered in the review of detention of adults. So what happens? The best interest of the child is not considered if a child is in detention with their parents but not actually “legally detained.” These children become invisible, and they fall through the cracks. By not considering their best interest, the government acts as if they weren't being detained. But they are. We can't deny it and we have to make it stop.
Ms Okwuama was in detention with her two year-old son, Jacob, and a second child born while she was in detention. The baby, as a Canadian citizen, was not legally detained and she is never mentioned in the 30-day detention review decision.
What should the government do?
The government should find viable alternatives to keeping children in immigration detention that are in the best interests of children. For example, Venezuela and Panama prohibit the detention of children for migration purposes.
The CCR Youth Network demands that the government of Canada STOP detaining children in immigration detention.