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Nova Scotia is first province to stop detaining migrants for administrative reasons

By Evan Taylor Sep 5, 2023 | 2:15 PM

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Nova Scotia has made history by becoming the first province in Canada to cease detaining migrants for administrative reasons in its provincial jails. The Nova Scotia Department of Justice officially terminated this practice on August 8, 2023, marking a significant shift in the province’s approach to immigration detention.

The move has been widely applauded, with refugee non-profits, among others, expressing their satisfaction with the decision. This change signals a significant commitment to ending the detention of foreign nationals detained by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, setting an important precedent.

Under this practice, individuals detained by the CBSA were not accused of any crimes but were held due to concerns that they might not appear for immigration proceedings, such as removal. This policy has long been a subject of debate and concern across the country.

In the context of Canada’s immigration detention system, which has faced criticism for its opaqueness and reliance on provincial jails, this move by Nova Scotia is a significant step forward. Many provinces across Canada have agreements with the federal government, allowing them to detain immigration detainees in exchange for compensation. These agreements typically require a one-year notice period for termination.

As the agreements approach expiration in several provinces, including Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, and Quebec, the federal government has yet to present a clear alternative plan for the handling of migrants. The new federal Minister of Public Safety responsible for CBSA, Dominic LeBlanc, echoes the stance of his predecessor, Marco Mendicino, stating that they are working with provinces “to further reduce the use of immigration detention and identify lasting solutions.” However, the lack of a concrete plan or message from the federal government has raised concerns among advocates and experts.

One notable exception to the trend of provinces ending their agreements is Manitoba, which had previously pledged to cease imprisoning migrants as of January 1, 2024. Manitoba has extended its deadline to April 1, 2024, according to its justice department, indicating ongoing uncertainty surrounding the issue.

Advocates and experts have expressed concern about the lack of a clear federal plan, fearing it could lead to an even more “unfair and random” system where immigration detainees may be transferred far from their loved ones, lawyers, and communities. They point out that in the months leading up to the end of the agreement with Nova Scotia, some migrants had been transferred to jails in New Brunswick.

These groups believe that community organizations are better equipped to care for migrants during their case processing and assist them in finding housing, legal services, and psychological support. They call on the federal government to redirect resources that had previously gone to correctional facilities.

Notably, Nova Scotia received approximately $400 a day for each immigration detainee, equivalent to $12,000 a month, according to a Human Rights Watch report. The report also highlighted that between 2015 and 2020, roughly 25% of the 8,000 migrants detained annually by CBSA were held in provincial jails. By 2021-2022, although the overall number of immigration detainees had decreased to about 3,000, nearly a quarter of them were still held in provincial jails, while the rest were mainly detained in federal immigration holding centres located in Laval (Québec), Toronto, and Surrey (BC).


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