Ottawa

Lone detainee Almrei costs taxpayers $2M annually at Kingston facility

It is costing Canadian taxpayers about $2 million a year to house the only prisoner at a special federal facility for foreign nationals who pose an alleged security risk to Canada, federal documents show.

It is costing Canadian taxpayers about $2 million a year to house the only prisoner at a special federal facility for foreign nationals who pose an alleged security risk to Canada, federal documents show.

The documents, obtained under an access-to-information request by Michael Larsen, a researcher at York University's Centre for International and Security Studies, show up to 17 employees are caring for and supervising Hassan Almrei at the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre.

Almrei, 34, is a refugee claimant from Syria who was arrested in Toronto in 2001 and subsequently held under a security certificate after being accused of having terrorist ties. He has not been charged with a crime.

The documents show it cost $3.2 million to establish the facility, which opened in April 2006 to detain individuals being held on security certificates until the immigration system decides whether they can be deported. It can house a maximum of six people, and is operated by the Correctional Service of Canada on behalf of the Canada Border Services Agency.

Larsen, who obtained the information for his PhD thesis, said a federal document updated on Dec. 12 reported that ongoing costs, estimated at $2 million annually, would not change much depending on the number of prisoners. 

"It's an extraordinary cost to detain one individual," he told CBCNews.ca on Tuesday.

In response to the findings, NDP MP and justice critic Joe Comartin called on the federal government to close the facility and transfer Almrei to a provincial facility.

Better living conditions than provincial facility: Larsen

Larsen said he doesn’t advocate that, as the documents show the federal facility has better living conditions than the provincial facility that previously housed Almrei, and criticism about provincial facilities is what prompted the government to set up the holding centre in the first place.

However, he said, "Would it not be much cheaper, much more just and in keeping with the rule of law to simply charge or release these individuals?"

That would introduce them to the normal court system, which already has provisions for detaining and prosecuting people, provided there is enough evidence, he added.

The memorandum of understanding establishing the facility specifies that it will remain operational until no one detained on a security certificate is left on bail.

The documents show that in March 2006, there were 17 people on the payroll of the facility: a director, an assistant to the director, nine detention officers and six detention supervisors. Their salaries made up most of the annual cost of running the facility.

At one point, there were four detainees at the facility, but all have been released on bail except for Almrei.

Security certificates allow the government to detain and deport non-Canadians who are deemed a threat to national security, and a new law governing them was passed by the Senate and the House of Commons in February.

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