Private prison companies looking to profit from Canada’s new asylum rules

Radio Canada photoThere's a good chance that Canada's detention system is going to see a huge influx of asylum seekers over the coming months and years.

That's because new rules, that come into effect in December, mean that any refugee designated as an 'irregular arrival' will undergo mandatory detention in one of Canada's four immigration holding centres (IHCs).

According to the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper, international private security and prison firms are salivating at the opportunities that this could present.

To date, Canada does not have any private detention centres, but we do have private detention services.

"The multinational security firm G4S...has the contract to provide security at the IHCs in Toronto and Laval, while the Corbel Management Corporation has had the contract to manage the Toronto facility since 2003," notes the Guardian article.

"Government records show that contract to have been worth more than $19m between 2004 and 2008."

[ Related: Skilled immigrant backlog declining, will be eliminated soon: Kenney ]

According to immigration attorney, Michael Niren, this poses several concerns.

"The concern with having the government entering into contracts with private companies offering 'detention services" , is accountability. Detainees have rights under the law and the question is whether these private service providers will be held accountable when their client is the government," Niren told Yahoo! Canada News.

"Nothing is wrong in principle with privatization. But when it comes to delegation of law enforcement and other standard governmental institutions to the private sector that raises automatic concerns."

Some are also worried that the Harper government will ultimately seek out a private detention centre model.  The Guardian claims that immigration minister Jason Kenney has toured private facilities in Australia and that prison companies have lobbied the government.

"By planning, by touring these different facilities, by having meetings with these different companies, it suggests that perhaps they [the Harper government] don't expect this bill to deter anything, and what they're in fact doing is creating a useful crisis in the form of mandatory detention that will be resolved by privatized detention facilities," Justin Piche — assistant professor of Criminology at the University of Ottawa — told the British newspaper.

[ Related: Kenney set to fast-track foreign students for immigration ]

Other countries such as Australia and the United States have already gone the private route. According to the National Immigration Forum, private prison companies in 2011 housed nearly half of all immigration detainees in the U.S..

"The expansion of the immigrant detention system has  directly  benefitted the private prison industry. Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is the largest [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] ICE detention contractor, operating a total of fourteen ICE-contracted facilities with a total of 14,556 beds.

And what's the problem with that?

According to the U.S. immigration watchdog, these private companies have become active in trying to  influence policy makers:

"Private prison corporations have also exerted their influence on legislators by lobbying for laws that detain  immigrants more frequently and for longer periods of time.  According to the Associated Press, the three corporations with the lion's share of  ICE detention contracts, including CCA and GEO, together spent at least $45 million in the past decade on campaign donations and lobbyists at the state and federal levels."

In an email to Yahoo! Canada News, Julie Carmichael, spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, said that there are no "current plans  to pursue privatized immigration detention facilities."