An average of at least 48 Canadian children are being held in immigration detention centres every year, harming their mental and physical health, according to a report from the University of Toronto's International Human Rights Program released Thursday.
The report, titled "Invisible Citizens: Canadian Children in Immigration Detention," called the detentions "serious human rights violations of some of the most vulnerable members of our society."
Although they are Canadian citizens, children are being taken into custody because one or more of their parents (either a foreign national or a permanent resident) is detained, making them "invisible in the law," the report reads.
Lena Alexander, an asylum-seeker from Ghana, was held at the Toronto Immigration Holding Centre, with her two Canadian-born children. (Photo: Rick Eglinton/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Under Canada's immigration law, Canadian citizens can't be formally confined so the children are instead considered "guests," and aren't able to access legal procedures or detention review hearings.
Parents must choose detention for their children, or hand them over to child services.
Mother diagnosed with PTSD, depression during detention
One mother interviewed for the report, Abigail, was arrested while on her way to church with her baby, Daevon, in 2014. Abigail had fled Jamaica after she reportedly endured physical and sexual abuse from a former partner. The Refugee Board refused her claim for asylum.
She didn't return to Jamaica, because Daevon was born with severe health problems that required medical care not available in the country. Without treatment, her son, a Canadian citizen, could become permanently disabled.
While in detention, Daevon experienced frequent nosebleeds and his health was impacted from the poor quality of the food he received. The Canada Border Services Agency initially refused to let Abigail accompany her son to doctor's appointments, and pressured her to hand over the child to her former partner.
Abigail was diagnosed with depression and PTSD. The psychological assessment during her detention noted Abigail felt "like her life is not worth living and concern for her son's well-being is the only reason that she pushes herself to keep going." She was released after six months and granted permanent resident status, but still feels like she and her son were "robbed."
The report called the detentions "serious human rights violations of some of the most vulnerable members of our society."
The figure of 48 children may be significantly lower than the actual number of children apprehended, as the study obtained data from only the Toronto Immigration Holding Centre, which is only one of Canada's detention facilities. Between 2011 and 2015, at least 227 Canadian children were held in the facility — however, nearly 20 per cent of the daily logs from that time period were missing, and no figures were provided from other Canadian detention agencies.
During that period of time, one boy spent over two years in detention. The average child was detained for just over one month.
Since October 2016, over 50 Canadian medical, legal and human rights organizations signed a statement calling for the end of immigration detention of children.