CBSA Release of Canadian Red Cross Immigration Detention Report

Successfully evading the watchful eye of even the Canada OPCAT Project, the first report of Canadian Red Cross monitoring of immigration detention in Canada has been released.

Published by the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) on 14 February 2019, where the news item remains a front page feature, the report highlights the findings of Canadian Red Cross monitoring of immigration detention in Canada in the period September 2017 to March 2018. A French version of this key report is also available on the same website.     

If the CBSA seems only too pleased to mark the release of the Canadian Red Cross’ CBSA detention report, the said report has oddly yet to surface on the Canadian Red Cross website. Even so, its publication comes as a very welcome step in opening up a detention setting in Canada, for which there is currently no statutory arms-length oversight body.

CBSA detention report
CBSA by British Columbia Emergency Photography (2014)

Instead such facilities are monitored as part of a two-year agreement between the CBSA and the Canadian Red Cross, as highlighted in the Executive Summary of the recently published report. In the document the Canadian Red Cross summarizes its main findings, as follows:

“Under the reporting period, the IDMP carried out a total of fifteen (15) visits to detention facilities holding immigration detainees between December 2017 and end of March 2018. Based on our observations made during this reporting period, CRCS grouped its concerns into the following five themes:  

  • Co-mingling of immigration detainees in correctional institution;
  • Lack of orientation about the detainees’ rights and responsibilities in detention;
  • Difficulties in accessing certain medical service;
  • Lack of access to outdoor areas in some visited facilities;
  • Difficulties in maintaining contact with families.”

On the basis of the CRC’s findings and observations the report makes the following recommendations:

  • “Where detention is necessary, to hold immigration detainees in facilities other than correctional prisons and where this is not possible, to separate immigration detainees from the rest of the prison population; 
  • To ensure that immigration detainees are fully aware of their rights and responsibilities, regardless of their place of detention; 
  • To ensure that immigration detainees have access to adequate mental health services wherever they are detained; 
  • To provide immigration detainees with daily access to outdoor areas as well as recreational activities; 
  • And finally, to allow regular and adequate contact between detainees and their families.”

In reaction to the Canadian Red Cross report, the CBSA has issued its Management Response and Action Plan, outlining its raft of proposed actions.    

CBSA detention

In contrast to certain other countries, Canada’s dedicated immigration holding regime is relatively small, comprising just three facilities. However, the country’s provincial prison estates are also used for the dispersal and detention of immigration detainees, a practice not without accompanying concern. Moreover, annually, sizeable numbers of persons are detained on immigration grounds.

According to the Canada Border Services Agency, in the fiscal year 2017-2018 some 8,355 persons were detained for a total of nearly 120,000 detention days in Canada. Of this number, 6,609 persons were held in one of the country’s three Immigration Holding Centres, while the remainder were detained in provincial and other facilities.

It bears noting that, during its examination of Canada in November 2018, the UN Committee against Torture voiced various concerns about recourse to immigration detention in the country, including the use of provincial prisons and the absence of any arms-length oversight body of such detention facilities.

During the said review in Geneva, the Canadian delegation stressed its intention to make public the annual reports of the Canadian Red Cross Immigration Detention Monitoring Program. The publication by the CBSA of the first annual report of activities is therefore to be welcomed.


Read the CRC report in English.

Read the CBSA Management Response and Action Plan in English.

Lire le rapport de l’CRC en français.

Lire la réponse de la direction de l’ASFC et un plan d’action en français.

Examine the Concluding observations of the UN Committee against Torture from December 2018 concerning oversight of immigration detention in Canada.

Explore the Canada OPCAT Project’s other featured articles relating to immigration detention, including the University of Oxford’s Faculty of Law Border Criminologies publication, HMIP Detention Monitoring Methodology: A Briefing Paper (2018) and the Global Detention Project reportHarm Reduction in Immigration Detention (2018).

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