Canada Border Services Agency detaining 8 people in Manitoba jails

Ontario ombudsman calls for sweeping changes to inmate segregation

Eight people are being held in Manitoba jails under immigration-related detention orders but the federal government refuses to release the reason for their incarceration.

The detainees are being held in jails across the province and one is at the Winnipeg Remand Centre, CBC News has learned.

Citing privacy reasons, the federal government won't say if any of the eight people behind bars are asylum seekers who've walked into Manitoba in recent months.

"There are always some people held in immigration detention in every province," said Scott Bardsley, press secretary for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.

CBC has obtained numbers that show 563 people have been detained in Manitoba jails by the Canada Border Services Agency from 2012 to 2016. In 2012, 144 people were detained.

There were 130 detained the next year and 168 in 2014. In 2015, 65 were detained and by the end of last year 56 had spent time behind bars in Manitoba.

Since January, Manitoba Justice has admitted a total of 12 immigration holds on behalf of CBSA. 

May have committed a crime

Winnipeg immigration lawyer Dean Szikinger said there's a number of reasons the border agency would detain someone.

"It could be that they've committed a crime, a danger to the public issue — we don't know." 

Szikinger said after being detained, there's a mandatory detention review within 48 hours that's usually conducted by phone with a judge from the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada in Vancouver.

The judge must decide if the detainee is a danger to society and at risk of averting a deportation order, he said.

If the judge rules the detainee can't be released, another review happens in seven days. 

'Not a pleasant experience' 

If a detainee's second review is unsuccessful, they must wait for a month. Szikinger said being behind bars is often scary for detainees and some may be at risk of not getting the medication they require.

"It's not a pleasant experience by any means," Szikinger said. 

Nationwide, a total of 15 detainees have died in the custody of the Canada Border Services Agency since 2000.

Bardsley insists anyone with a valid refugee claim coming into Manitoba irregularly is treated fairly and given a hearing with the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada if they pass required screenings.

He said there are only three circumstances under which officials are allowed to detain someone with possible deportation to follow: where there's a flight risk, when their identity cannot be verified, or when it's determined they pose a threat to public safety.

"Trying to slip across the border is not a free-ticket to Canada," he wrote in an email.