Immigration detainees now on Day 14 of hunger strike in Ontario

A hunger strike by about 50 immigration detainees at two Ontario prisons has entered its 14th day.

Detainees, who want a limit on detentions, are beginning to feel effects of hunger strike

The Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ont. (Google Streetview)

A hunger strike by about 50 immigration detainees at two Ontario prisons has entered its 14th day.

Immigration consultant MacDonald Scott, who represents four detainees who have stopped eating, told Metro Morning that some of the immigration detainees are prepared to continue the strike until they are able to meet with Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.

The group wants Goodale to limit detentions to 90 days and to stop putting immigration detainees in maximum security prisons.

"My understanding from people on the inside that I have talked to is that a number of the longer-term detainees are determined to stay on the strike until they get the meeting with Ralph Goodale," Scott said. "Right now, it's a ripe time for us to be pushing for Canada to obey international law and put in a release period."

Scott said the detainees want the government to ensure if detainees are not deported to their country of origin within 90 days, then they are released from detention. The detainees currently refusing food are being held at the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ont., and the Toronto East Detention Centre in Scarborough.

Immigration detainees in Canada are held at immigration holding centres, but transferred to provincial prisons when they are considered high risk. That includes detainees who have criminal backgrounds, outstanding charges, a history of violence, are an escape risk, or pose a danger to themselves or others.

'They are not eating anything at all'

Scott said the detainees are beginning to feel the effects of the hunger strike. 

"They are not eating anything at all. They are just drinking water," Scott said. "I'm very proud of our people on the inside. They've shown resolve and organization beyond anything I've seen since 191 went on a hunger strike in 2013."

Scott said he has been told that the Canada Border Services Agency has been meeting regularly with spokespeople selected by groups of detainees at the two prisons.

Neither the CBSA nor Goodale were available for comment.

According to Dr. Michelle Fraser, a doctor who signed a letter from medical professionals to Goodale, no food for two weeks can lead to weakness, lightheadedness, headaches and difficulty thinking in a straightforward and organized fashion.

"I am concerned that a continuing hunger strike will put already vulnerable people at further risk of physical and mental harm," Fraser said in a statement released by End Immigration Detention Network. "That 50 detainees feel forced to hunger strike, to put their lives at risk, to meet with elected officials and to demand that Canada follow international law, is shameful." 

Richard Abuwa, an immigration detainee held for 27 months at Central East Correctional Centre but who is scheduled to be deported to Nigeria on Monday, told As It Happens on Friday that the conditions facing detainees, who have not been charged, are very difficult.

"It's a jail. no jails are fun," Abuwa said. "To me, it feels like I'm in segregation and living in a cage like an animal, treated like an animal, and then they expect me to behave rationally. It's not right. It's not fair."

Abuwa said Goodale should meet with the hunger strikers. 

"We're trying to speak with Ralph Goodale to find out exactly where he stands on this message that he's trying to push out to us, because he said that he's looking into long-term detainees and trying to implement something towards this fall. But the thing is, the fall, that's just asking us to sit in here longer. And that's not even a promise that in the fall we're going to be facing release."