Man Dies While In Immigration Detention

By Klaudios Mustakas | August 25, 2015

Pace immigration senior advisor Klaudios Mustakas: Questions are being raised about the recent death of a Somali man who was in the custody of the Canada Border Service Agency and died while in immigration detention:

Protesters attempted to deliver a petition to the Ontario government Monday, demanding an inquest into the death of a Somali immigrant.

Abdurahman Ibrahim Hassan died on June 11, after three years in the custody of the Canadian Border Services Agency.

He had moved to Canada in 1993 with his family but never became a Canadian citizen, due in part to mental health issues.

In 2012, he was convicted of assault and sentenced to four months behind bars. He was then transferred to CBSA custody and held in a maximum security prison in Ontario, where he remained for three years until his death.

“We’re here today to demand justice and honour for all the people that have been targeted, criminalized, brutalized and killed by the immigration systems,” Tings Chak, a member of the End Immigration Detention Network, said at Monday’s protest.

It is understandable that people are upset over the death of this man. It’s worth examining why he was detained for so long.

WHO CAN BE HELD IN IMMIGRATION DETENTION?

CBSA has a legal responsibility to detain any individual who is under a removal order, provided they are not a Canadian citizen or a Permanent Resident.

In order to detain such an individual, that person must be a danger to the public or seen as someone who won’t show up for removal. This is based on the individual’s history (criminal records, as well as other evidence on file), and is akin to how the government might view someone who is considered a trial flight risk or bail jumper.

In some cases, the government has a moratorium on removals to specific countries due to civil strife in those countries. This puts both the individual and the government in a bind: releasing the person onto the streets of Canada is unfair to Canadians while sending the person back to a civil war is unfair to the individual.

DUE PROCESS

Reading articles such as the one above may lead you to believe that people are locked up and virtually forgotten. This is untrue. The individual must have a full detention review before an immigration judge every 30 days and detention must be justified every time. Unfortunately, the individual sometimes has mental problems that show they may be a danger to themselves or the Canadian public and the detention is justified on those grounds.

You may be wondering why the government doesn’t just “send him home,” but there are a number of factors that can crop up, not least of which is that the person may not be able to prove who they are, or that their home country won’t take them back. When that happens, the person must be detained until the bureaucratic and political details can be straightened out.

If the individual has a criminal record, then they are detained at a provincial detention centre, otherwise known to you and me as “jail.” They cannot not be held in an Immigration Detention Centre because those are neither intended nor equipped to detain criminals.

NOT PERFECT FOR ANYONE

There really is no perfect or rosy way to handle removal proceedings or detentions. The CBSA would rather not have to detain anyone. Taking the above case as an example, if the CBSA was able to remove this individual to his country they would have done so years ago. Such cases cost the Canadian taxpayer thousands of dollars every month and, as with the Somali man, can result in tragedy for the individual and their family.

I am not aware of the specific circumstances in the above case, but I know that if the CBSA was able to remove this individual they would have done so.

Klaudios Mustakas is a former senior manager with the Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA) and Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC). He has 37 years of federal government service, including international diplomatic assignments in the United States and the Middle East. He retired as Chief, Enforcement (CBSA) in December, 2010.