TORONTO — The death of yet another immigration detainee in custody has sparked anger and raised alarm bells among human rights groups looking for elusive answers.
The latest fatality, shrouded as usual in secrecy, occurred at the Toronto East Detention Centre on Monday, according to authorities.
Canada Border Services Agency refused to provide any details as to the identity of the prisoner or the circumstances of the death.
Rights groups called the death and the border agency's unwillingness to share information unacceptable.
"Nobody should die while they are in the custody of CBSA," Mitch Goldberg, president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, said in a statement Wednesday.
"The public needs answers. What was the cause of death? Could this death have been prevented? Did some action or inaction on the part of CBSA and the correctional facility that they use to house their detainees contribute to their deaths?"
Detained without charge
Critics have long denounced the Canadian system of potentially indefinite detention for foreigners — often in provincial jails that house criminals — who run afoul of immigration rules but may not be subject to any charges.
They note at least 13 people have died in custody of Canadian immigration authorities since 2000.
"This latest death is a further stain on CBSA's reputation and highlights the urgent need for reform of the way immigration detention is practised in this country," said Samer Muscati, with the University of Toronto international human rights program.
CBSA announced the death in a release Tuesday.
"The CBSA is not in a position to release further information while the investigation is ongoing."
"The CBSA will also be reviewing the circumstances of the death," the release said. "The CBSA is not in a position to release further information while the investigation is ongoing."
In a similar case last June, a cloak of secrecy descended on the death of a man in agency custody who died after being taken to a hospital in Peterborough, Ont. An agency statement, issued about 18 hours after the death, gave no further information about who he was, where he was from or how he died.
Some information emerged later — the man was 39 and under escort from police to hospital — because the province's special investigations unit was called in. The unit said it would defer to the wishes of the man's family as to the release of his identity.
Critics call detention of migrants 'deeply problematic'
Canadian immigration authorities routinely send detainees to provincial jails, something the president of the Canadian Council for Refugees called "deeply problematic."
"CBSA must bear responsibility for the health and well-being of detainees, yet they have no direct supervision when detainees are in provincial jails," Loly Rico said in a statement.
Critics said the latest death underscores the urgent need for independent oversight of Canada's border police, especially given their broad powers of arrest and detention.
"CBSA must bear responsibility for the health and well-being of detainees, yet they have no direct supervision when detainees are in provincial jails."
"CBSA remains alone among major Canadian law enforcement agencies in having no independent oversight," said Laura Track with the BC Civil Liberties Association.
The issue also drew the attention of Amnesty International, which denounced the "glaring oversight gap."
The group's secretary general in Canada called it "unconscionable" that someone could die in immigration custody, but no independent agency has a mandate to investigate and ensure human rights obligations have been met.
Last June, a University of Toronto report found almost one-third of foreigners detained in Canada are placed in facilities intended for criminals. Such detentions violated international human-rights law and amounted to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, the report said.ALSO ON HUFFPOST:
This the the biggest immigration lie, upon which subsequent misinformation is usually based. By any objective measure, the border is currently more secure than it's been in decades. That's largely because the scale of illegal immigration has declined dramatically. Last year, there were about 421,000 apprehensions for illegal crossings. That figure was down from a high of 1.7 million in 2000. The U.S. spends more on border enforcement than on all other federal law enforcement agencies combined. The American obsession with border security, which persists even though illegal immigration has plummeted in the past decade, means that illegal entry and re-entry are now the most commonly prosecuted offenses on the federal docket. After six years in office, President Barack Obama has deported more people than any other president in U.S. history, which explains his fractured relationship with immigrant rights advocates even though he supports reform.
Obama isn't lax on border security, so this argument doesn't hold water. It becomes even more clear that the crisis isn't about security when you consider that most of the 66,000 unaccompanied minors who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally this year promptly turned themselves over to U.S. immigration officials. It's hard to see that as much of a security breach.
As noted, most of the children aren't even trying to avoid detection, much less commit crimes that threaten national security. And let's not forget that they are kids. Still, some Republicans continue to stoke fear that the children might threaten national security. At a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security this month, Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) raised concerns about unaccompanied minors apprehended at the border -- specifically, about the federal government moving these children and teens across the country "without states knowing who they are," according to The Arizona Republic. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) responded to Barletta by asking, "Do you have documentation that unaccompanied children, age 2, 4, and 6, are in fact known terrorists that are being spread throughout the nation?" Barletta said he had no proof, but argued that his lack of evidence should be viewed as a reason to treat the kids with suspicion. "Shouldn't we consider it a threat that we don't know anything about these individuals that are being sent around the United States?" Barletta said. The fact that many public officials have painted the children as a security threat, rather than as victims of a humanitarian crisis, is one of the most perplexing aspects of this whole issue. Those public figures have offered little in the way of evidence that what's needed is a more militarized border. In the words of former acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection David Aguilar: "What we'd be doing by sending more enforcement resources -- if that's all we do -- is creating a larger glove to catch more unaccompanied children."
In response to the child migrant crisis, the vast majority of House Republicans -- along with a handful of Democrats -- voted to overturn Obama's policy of granting deportation relief to undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. In voting to adopt a policy of deporting Dreamers, House Republicans ignored that almost no evidence exists to substantiate the claim that the minors have been attracted to the United States because of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Those who defend this argument, like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), point out that the influx of child migrants rose at a time roughly coinciding with DACA and that Central American migrants sometimes say they expect to receive a "permiso," or permit, after entering illegally. In fact, the number of unaccompanied minors from Central America was already climbing before DACA went into effect, and the so-called "permiso" almost certainly refers to a notice to appear in immigration court. There's a good reason migrants would refer to such a notice as a "permit." By law, unaccompanied minors from Central America are not immediately repatriated. Instead, they usually receive a notice to appear in immigration court and are released to a family member based in the United States to fight their deportation case from outside of detention. In reality, as we've written before, the child migrant crisis stems from a combination of poverty and violence in Central America and a legal loophole exploited by human traffickers that makes it easier for unaccompanied minors to stay in the United States after arriving illegally.
This is a pet idea of Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) that both Department of Homeland Security officials and independent experts have disputed. "There is no credible intelligence to suggest that there is an active plot by [the Islamic State] to attempt to cross the southern border," a DHS spokesperson said in a statement earlier this month. One Customs and Border Protection official said that if members of the Islamic State were planning an attack on the United States, they would most likely hop on a commercial plane to get here. Nevertheless, some Republicans, like Georgia Senate candidate David Perdue, have featured this inaccurate talking point in their campaign ads.