Detained immigrant children ‘legally invisible’ in Canada, report claims

Author/ Amanda Jerome Publication/ Lawyer’s Daily

Ali Esnaashari, an immigration lawyer with Mamann, Sandaluk & Kingwell LLP, used to work at a refugee law office where tackling issues of families in detention was a common occurrence. “These children who are in detention centres are either there because they themselves are out of status and subject to removal, or they’re in there because their legal guardian or their parents are in detention and they don’t have anyone on the outside,” he said. “In terms of the legal landscape, there are two ways to deal with this: either the child stays in detention or basically the Children’s Aid Society (CAS) gets involved in these cases, and of course that would be the last resort for any parents or any child because that’s not necessarily the better alternative in these situations.”

Esnaashari said these children are “in the eye of the tornado” and have little ability or support to cope with their situation. “There are all these things that are happening around them and they see it. … They understand it, and they can’t really cope with it,” he said. “Now you’re taking them and you’re removing them from their parents, who are really the only familiar person that they know, and putting them, for example, in CAS’ custody. It’s definitely not in their best interest.”

Esnaashari explained that national security nowadays is the primary concern and the best interest of a child in the immigration context is overshadowed by that. He agreed the law needs to change and that community-based alternatives to detention would be a step in the right direction.

“Right now if a detainee gets released they have to report periodically to the Canada Border Service Agency,” he said, adding that the CBSA office in Toronto is placed out of the way on Airport Road, creating a challenge for migrants who have limited transportation options. “Nowhere [does the legislation say] they need to go there. So if for example, you tell them to report to police stations. You tell them to report to any other community centres that may be willing to get involved, because frankly the supervision provided by these institutions are not only more effective, but it’s also easier for the migrants as well.”

Esnaashari believes changes in reporting and community-based detention would not only be better for immigrants, but better for the Canadian taxpayer because the CBSA would require fewer resources.

“We need to know that in most of these situations these are not criminals that we’re detaining,” he said. “These are just simply people that for one reason or another have overstayed and are in the removal process.”

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