The Canadian government is committing millions to upgrade immigration detention centres across Canada.

Immigration detention facilities in Vancouver and Laval, Que., are also set to be replaced.

Canada's Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale made the $138-million announcement Monday morning at the Laval Immigration Holding Centre. He said the objective is to make detention a last resort.

"In my first few months as minister responsible for Canada Border Services Agency, I have certainly heard the concerns about immigration detention, and I've studied those concerns with great care," Goodale said.

"The government is anxious to address the weaknesses that exist and to do better."

Samer Muscati, the director of the University of Toronto's International Human Rights Program, said it was reassuring to hear Goodale address concerns about excessive use of detention in his remarks today.

"He's saying the right things and it's a positive development that he's saying these things, but of course we'll need to see what happens in terms of actions that follow," he said. "The proof will be in the pudding."

The government will soon begin consultations with stakeholders with the aim of finding alternatives and ways to minimize the number of minors in detention.

​According to the Canada Border Services Agency, there are, on average, 450 to 500 people who are detained at any given time under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

The End Immigration Detention Network says 15 people have died in detention while in CBSA custody since 2000. It says reforms are welcome, but the system is inherently unfair.

"Immigration detention including in immigration holding centres is imprisonment without charges or trial. It should end, not be expanded by throwing over a hundred million dollars at it," said the Network's spokesperson Tings Chak.  

A Red Cross investigation in 2014 found numerous shortcomings at facilities for immigrant detainees, including overcrowding and inadequate mental health care.

Newcomers are often held in provincial jails or police facilities alongside suspected gang members and violent offenders.

The government's reform objectives include:

  • Increasing the availability of alternatives to detention.
  • Reducing the use of provincial jails for immigration detention to prevent the interaction of immigration and criminal detainees.
  • Avoiding the detention of minors in the facilities as much as possible.
  • Improving physical and mental health care offered to those detained.
  • Maintaining ready access to facilities for agencies such as the Red Cross, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as well as legal and spiritual advisers.
  • Increasing transparency.

With files from The Canadian Press