Border agency deploys technology to cut the number of refugee claimants being detained

Canada's border agency will start using voice reporting and GPS tools to track some refugee claimants and other foreign nationals instead of detaining them.

CBSA hopes to use more community monitoring instead of holding centres

A guard stands outside the gates of an immigrant holding centre in Laval, Que. The Canada Border Services Agency has announced an expanded framework for alternatives to detention. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Canada's border agency will start using voice reporting and GPS tools to track some refugee claimants and other foreign nationals as an alternative to detaining them.

The federal government can detain individual refugee claimants indefinitely; some have been held for months, even years, while their claims are processed. On Tuesday, the Canada Border Services Agency officially announced the introduction of new tools as part of its effort to find alternatives to detention.

As first reported by CBC News, the expanded framework will include:

  • A voice reporting system available across the country that will allow people to comply with reporting conditions by using voice biometrics to report to the CBSA at designated times.
  • Expanded use of electronic supervision tools, such as GPS monitoring (it's being introduced in the Greater Toronto Area as a pilot program).
  • A community case management and supervision program that will align in-community support services with individuals' needs to mitigate risk factors.

CBSA officials, speaking to reporters during a technical briefing on background, said they would assess claimants' eligibility for alternatives to detention by deciding whether they pose a threat to public safety and whether they would comply with release conditions.

The border agency says detention should be treated as "a last resort."

Officials said families, minors and people with disabilities would be considered "first and foremost" for alternatives to detention.

Agreements with third-party service providers — including the Salvation Army, the John Howard Society of Canada and the Toronto Bail Program — already have been signed to track people released into the community with conditions.

The issue of immigration detention became a lightning rod in the U.S. after President Donald Trump announced a "zero tolerance" policy which separated thousands of children from their parents at the border. Trump retreated after an international outcry, and the government is now in the process of reuniting many of those children with their parents to comply with a federal court order.

155 minors were held in detention last fiscal year

In Canada, 7,364 people were held in detention for an average of 12 days in the nine-month period ending March 31, 2018.

In that same period, 155 minors were held in detention — five of them were not accompanied by their parents.

Foreign nationals can be detained if they're considered a flight risk or a danger to the public, or if their identity can't be confirmed. They also can be detained on the basis of inadmissibility to Canada due to a security risk, human rights violations or serious crimes.

CBSA has three holding centres, in Laval, Que., Toronto and Vancouver, and uses provincial jails for high-risk detainees or those being detained in areas not served by a holding centre.

The Liberals announced a new National Immigration Detention Framework (NIDF) in August 2016, which earmarked up $138 million to improve immigration detention infrastructure, provide better mental and medical health services at CBSA immigration holding centres, expand partnerships and alternatives to detention, and reduce the number of minors in detention.

In November 2017, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale announced new directives to restrict detention of minors, which included looking for alternatives to detention such as curfews, residency rules or payment of cash bonds. That directive said the welfare of the child is a "primary consideration" and must be top of mind in any decision about the parents' detention.

With files from the CBC's Kathleen Harris


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