Hon. Joseph A. Day (Leader of the Senate Liberals):
Senator Harder, my question is being asked on behalf of Senator Jaffer, who had double duty elsewhere.
According to the recent Canadian Red Cross Society report, Canada detained an estimated 291 minors under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act in 2017. Of those detained children, 288 were held in federal or provincial facilities in Ontario or British Columbia.
The Canadian Red Cross Society is concerned that these national statistics don’t reflect minors who are Canadian citizens and therefore not part of the detention order but who are still being detained. Those children are either detained formally with a detention order or they are accompanying their parent or legal guardian and are therefore not formally part of a detention order.
I would like to ask the government two questions about the detention of children. Firstly, how many minors are currently being detained, with or without Canadian citizenship? Secondly, what is the government’s approach on the rights of minors being so detained, with or without Canadian citizenship?
Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): I thank the honourable senator for his question. I was going to welcome Senator Jaffer back because this is an issue, as senators know, that she has asked about in the past. Her vigilance is welcomed by all sides of this chamber.
I want to remind the Senate that in the fall the government announced a new directive that includes the best interests of the child as a primary factor for the Canada Border Services Agency when making detention decisions.
I would like to inform the chamber that, according to the Canadian Council for Refugees, “These new instructions are a concrete step towards ending the detention of children on immigration grounds in Canada.” The goal, of course, is to avoid, as much as is humanly possible, housing children in detention facilities. Minors are sometimes allowed to remain in a holding centre with a detained parent, provided it is deemed to be in the best interests of the child not to be separated from the parents who are so detained. This only happens with parental consent, and CBSA always considers alternative arrangements with child protection agencies.
Honourable senators, I’m happy to report that the number of people detained in immigration detention is down almost 30 per cent in the last number of years. I would also draw attention to the government’s $138 million national immigration detention framework, which will further improve the system by expanding alternatives to detention, significantly improving conditions in the holding centres for those for whom there is no other choice and providing better mental and medical health services, reducing the reliance on provincial facilities and strengthening partnerships that the CBSA has with the Red Cross and with the United Nations. I would again quote the UNHCR, who has established on the record that, by and large, the Canadian system remains exemplary worldwide.
With respect to the statistics the honourable senator has asked for, these statistics are publicly available, and I’m happy to indicate where they can be tracked on a daily basis. Regarding the specific question on unaccompanied minor children in detention, in the last reporting quarter there was one; and accompanied, 37. Of that number, one was Canadian.