CBSA to begin tracking family separation

·2 min read

Weeks after Radio-Canada told the story of an asylum seeker who was separated from his two children after crossing the Canada-U.S. border, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) says it will monitor the practice.

In December, Radio-Canada reported that at least 182 children had been separated from a parent detained at an immigration holding facility in Laval, Que., in 2019 alone, despite a CBSA directive prohibiting family separation in most cases.

The story also revealed CBSA doesn't collect its own data on family separation, but CBSA says that gap is about to be fixed.

"The Agency intends to capture statistics nationally on minors being separated from at least one parent," a CBSA spokesperson confirmed in an email. The decision was made in light of revelations in the Radio-Canada story.

If the government is separating children from their parents, I think it has to at least keep a close eye on its own practices. - Jenny Jeanes, Action Réfugiés Montréal

The advocacy group Action Réfugiés Montréal started keeping its own tally when it realized the CBSA wasn't always following a 2017 national directive for the detention or housing of minors, which forbids agents from separating or detaining families except in extremely rare circumstances.

Action Réfugiés Montréal's research is limited to the Montreal area but CBSA has two other immigration holding centres in Toronto and Surrey, B.C.

CBSA said it intends to start collecting national data this spring, and will make the results available on its website.

"It is very good news," said Jenny Jeanes of Action Réfugiés Montréal. "To have numbers, to have greater transparency, is fundamental. If the government is separating children from their parents, I think it has to at least keep a close eye on its own practices."


But for Jeanes, it's only a first step. Above all, she wants the national directive, which emphasizes children's well-being and family unity, to be respected.

But Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, who's responsible for CBSA, said the agency is already doing that.

"There are instances in which individuals must be detained for legitimate reasons, including, for example, while their identity is being determined or verified," wrote the minister's office in an email to Radio-Canada.

"In an instance in which an individual must be detained, it is often in the best interest of the child to be out of detention with one parent instead of being placed in immigration detention with both parents."

In some cases, children can also be handed over to relatives, friends or youth protection services.