State-created disabilities and criminalization of children in immigration detention in Canada

July 10, 2018

BY Nelly Bassily

An open letter addressed on June 27, 2018 to Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Minister of Health; Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness; and Ahmed D. Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, stated: “over the past 6 years, Canada has held approximately 45,000 people in immigration detention. For the first time in over a decade, Canada is projected to see a sharp rise in the total number of detainees.”

Over 2000 healthcare providers working in Canada signed this open letter, concerned with the recent news of the separation of over 2000 child migrants from their parents in the US. Using the momentum from these recent events, the letter sought to call the world’s attention to the fact that the Canadian government is very far from having a squeaky clean reputation when it comes to the detention of migrant adults, their children, or the separation of families in its own immigration detention system. The Geneva-based Global Detention Project, an international research group that promotes the human rights of migrants in detention also recently slammed Canada for its culture of secrecy surrounding immigration detention.

In fact, according to the healthcare providers who signed the open letter, “Canadian research and reports have repeatedly shown the severe mental health impacts of even short-term detention on both adults and children, including elevated rates of depression, anxiety and PTSD symptoms in adults. Children also suffer severe symptoms such as regression of developmental milestones, sleep disruption, anxiety and depression.”

As someone who works in the feminist disability rights movement in Canada, this last statement rings alarm bells for me. Depression, anxiety, regression of developmental milestones, and sleep disruption in detained migrant children means the Canadian state is knowingly causing disabilities in what we know are, for the most part, migrants of colour. A neo-colonial project of a still colonial state that keeps kids, some as young as 2-years-old, in immigration detention, even if these kinds of arbitrary and indefinite means of detention go against international laws as well as traumatize and scar black and brown kids for life.

Criminalizing migrants of colour is an overt tactic of ostracization and othering. In her book, Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present, author Robyn Maynard writes: “The state repression experienced by poor, racialized migrants in immigration detention is, in many ways, virtually identical to imprisonment, only less regulated and more arbitrary.” According to the Global Detention Project, “Canada is one of only a handful of countries with a mandatory detention policy, which includes detention for up to 12 months with no judicial review; and anti-terrorism provisions in its immigration legislation have been used to detain and deport foreign nationals on secret evidence.”

It has been proven that Immigration detention is violent and causes harm yet Canada continues to confine approximately one third of its immigration detainees in prisons. As Maynard explains it: “Most detainees who are failed refugee claimants have escaped from horrific and violent situations abroad only to be placed behind bars in their place of attempted refuge.”

As an activist and disability rights defender that uses an intersectional feminist and anti-racism lens and framework of analysis, I pose this question to all those feminists staring from the sidelines, keeping suspiciously silent in the face of the injustice happening to mainly racialized folks and their babies: where are your protest voices demanding an end to the detention of children under immigration legislation? You talk until you are blue in the face about pay inequity and wanting to bridge the gender pay gap, about unrecognized and unpaid care work, and you rage against the patriarchy, but where is your daily outrage for the most vulnerable among us? Funny how, in the mainstream Canadian feminist landscape, no one is up in arms about immigrants, refugees and non-status people being unjustly detained. Where’s the solidarity?