Protest currently halted to re-think a longer and more effective strategy
According to advocate group Solidarity Across Borders (SAB), a group of seven detained migrants held at the Immigration Holding Centre (IHC) in Laval initiated a seven-day hunger strike in protest against the centre’s living conditions and lack of COVID-19 care between Feb. 28 and March 6.
SAB is calling for their release from the holding centre, stating that the current conditions migrants are living under are inhumane and unacceptable. The Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) confirms that there are currently 17 migrants detained at the centre, seven of whom went on strike.
The first wave of protests initially started Feb. 15 by a lone migrant, under the pseudonym Marlon, who went on a hunger strike after testing positive for COVID-19 at the centre. SAB spokesperson Bill Van Driel says that after an 11-day protest, Marlon regained his strength for a few days before joining the other six migrants who decided to also protest against forced solitary confinement and unsanitary living conditions.
“From the moment that there was a confirmed COVID case at the centre, they put all detainees in solitary confinement,“ Van Biel said. The detainees state that being held under confinement, even without showing symptoms of COVID-19, is unjust and inhumane. In solitary confinement, detainees are held in cells all day, only having the right to leave for a limited amount of time to use the phone or to bathe.
However in an email received by The Concordian, Mark Stuart, spokesperson for the CBSA, contradicts SAB, claiming no protest occurred at the Laval IHC.
“The Canada Border Services Agency can confirm that there were no detainees on food protest on the week of March 1, 2021 at the Immigration Holding Centre in Laval and there are still no food protests at the IHC as of March 15, 2021,” Stuart said. However, the CBSA did confirm that there was in fact a hunger protest, but at a different provincial facility.
According to SAB, the added inability for family or attorney visitation due to COVID-19 has also taken a toll on the migrants detained there.
“That creates a lot of difficulty for people, it creates psychological difficulty of having less contact and being cut off from the outside world, especially for people facing deportation,” Van Biel said.
The CBSA also disputes the allegation that they forbid visitations from attorneys, claiming they do allow lawyer visitation at their facilities across Canada.
“Regardless of location of detention all detainees have access to legal counsel or a representative, in person or over the phone, at any point throughout their detention,” Stuart said.
Through SAB, the seven detainees released a declaration letter describing the things they’ve experienced. The declaration recounts mistreatments the detainees have faced, including COVID-19 negligence, unsanitary living conditions, and other negative experiences.
“Some of the detainees have already contracted COVID-19. Others complained of pain similar to the symptoms of COVID but were given only Tylenol. We are in a lot of pain,” the letter says. “We had also been confined to separate rooms without receiving any psychological assistance. We are distraught and very fearful for our health.”
“The sanitary measures taken by the immigration officers are clearly insufficient.”
Stuart claims that since the beginning of COVID-19, the CBSA has ensured precautionary and additional steps to sanitize cells to help prevent the spread of the virus between detainees.
“In addition to standardized cleaning procedures, the CBSA has put in place additional measures to disinfect the premises and facilities where detainees and staff are located. Maintenance crews have increased the frequency of cleaning the bathrooms, common areas, reception area, etc.”
Though the CBSA claims that conditions are being taken care of, now more than ever, Van Biel doesn’t believe in what the CBSA claims they’re doing.
“The conditions in the immigration centres are terrible,” Van Biel said. “The conditions of these detention centres are always terrible, even when compared to other prisons in Canada.”
According to SAB, migrants communicated to each other by means of yelling from cell to cell, and SAB organizers assume that was the method that sparked the large hunger strike.
Van Biel says that after seven days, the protest was halted to re-think a different long-term strategy all while attempting to keep steady pressure at the IHC.
“We are asking to be released from the Laval detention centre because it is a place where the virus can spread, and it is only a matter of time before we are all infected,” the letter says.
No statement has been released on what the next method of protest will be.