'Traumatized' by jail, immigration detainee encouraged by government review of system

A French man detained at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre while he awaited a work permit says the experience left him "traumatized," and he's encouraged the federal government is pledging to review its system for detaining immigrants.

Antoine Pacory was detained at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre for five days in May

Antoine Pacory was detained at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre in May. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

A French man detained at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre while he awaited a Canadian work permit says he's encouraged the federal government is pledging to review and upgrade its system for detaining immigrants.

Antoine Pacory says the experience last spring left him traumatized, and he welcomes news the minister responsible for Canada Border Services Agency will be looking at the system that landed him in jail.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale announced Monday the federal government would be adding $138 million to upgrade immigration detention centres as well as begin a review of alternatives to detention.

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

Pacory, along with his Ottawa lawyer Arghavan Gerami, have been fighting the decision to remove the 25-year-old from Canada and send him back to France.

The deportation process began when a CBSA agent detained him in May, on the same day he was to receive his work permit from the federal government.

Gerami explained Pacory had been instructed by immigration officials to leave the country and re-enter in order to get his new work permit, but instead of getting the long-sought document, a CBSA agent at a border crossing held him in custody, suspecting Pacory had been working in Canada illegally. Pacory was then transferred to OCDC.. 

As part of a federal-provincial agreement, OCDC will hold immigration detainees alongside other inmates.

'It was very scary'

"It was very scary," said Pacory, describing the experience. He said he worried about his personal safety, sharing a large common cell with 27 other inmates. "I didn't sleep much."

Antoine Pacory says he was 'traumatized' when he was jailed at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre. (Andrew Foote/CBC)
Unable to connect with lawyers or friends during much of the detention because of regular lockdowns, Pacory said that even once he was released after a hearing five days later, he continued to suffer symptoms of shock and paranoia. 

"The situation is inhumane and its about time we turn our attention to this issue," said his lawyer.

She's happy to see the federal government allocate funding, but hopes that it is not just used to improve and expand the CBSA detention centres, noting there isn't one in cities like Ottawa, forcing detainees into the jail system.

Gerami also hopes the new funding goes to support services like mental health, with an emphasis on alternatives to detention. "I hope we see changes in how these people are treated," she added.

Pacory has already signed onto a class action lawsuit involving inmates at OCDC, now filed in court. 

Court remedies for 'cruel and unusual treatment'

Gerami says she's handled several dozen cases involving immigration detainees, and believes recent court decisions are putting pressure on the federal government to change its immigration detention system. 

Last year, she successfully petitioned the federal court to request CBSA release a client on a $20,000 bond after two years in custody. But federal decisions are hard to come by.

Antoine Pacory holds documents he received from Citizenship and Immigration Canada. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)
A landmark ruling by the Ontario Superior Court in May now opens the door to a new option to petition the provincial courts for detainees held in Ontario jails. 

Toronto lawyer Barbara Jackman won the constitutional challenge involving two clients in custody at the Maplehurst Correctional Complex in Milton, Ont., including one immigration detainee named Jamil Ogiamien.

The court awarded $60,000 in damages to Ogiamien for a violation of his charter rights caused by his prolonged stay at the facility, concluding "some of the basic standards for detainees are not fully met at Maplehurst. The addition of frequent, random and unplanned lockdowns over a two-year period constitutes cruel and unusual treatment."

In an interview, Jackman said she was also encouraged by the federal government's announcement, but hoped the promised consultations will include some of the detainees themselves. More than a dozen detainees have participated in a hunger strike mostly at the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ont., according to federal officials.

The government announcement Monday included a promise to begin consultations with stakeholders in order to find alternatives to detention, and minimize the number of minors held in custody.

CBSA reports there are 450 to 500 people detained currently under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

The majority of those detainees are held in Ontario, according to Jackman.