Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer:
My question is to the Leader of the Government, Senator Harder. I would like to ask you about the detention of children by the Canada Border Services Agency. This is a question that Senator Oh and I have asked many times because we are worried about the damage that is caused to the children.
What worries me is that Minister Goodale, when he was at National Defence, promised to do whatever he could to prevent child detention last year. Yet, despite this promise, it seems to keep happening. According to reports from June, 162 minors were detained by CBSA centres over the last year. Worse yet, 11 of them were held even without being accompanied by an adult. This is unacceptable.
When President Trump started to detain migrant children, Prime Minister Trudeau said, “This is not the way we do things in Canada.” However, these statistics are painting a very different picture.
Leader, if this is not what we do in Canada, why do we still have 162 children, some unaccompanied by adults, in detention?
Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): Again, I thank the honourable senator for the question and for her and other senators’ ongoing interest in this. She will know, and senators will know, from previous answers to questions relating to this subject, my reference to the $138 million commitment to the National Immigration Detention Framework that happened a year ago in the fall so that the government could implement its directives, which include ensuring that the best interest of the child is the primary factor in considering when to make detention decisions.
The senator will also know that on July 22 of this year, CBSA launched an expanded Alternatives to Detention Program, and the new alternatives to detention will result in fewer people in immigration detention overall, better options for managing vulnerable people or family situations and greater national consistency in the way individuals are treated.
I would like to reference, in particular, the national statistics, which are somewhat at variance with the statistics the honourable senator outlined. If there is a difference, we should find a way of reconciling those. But the number of minors in detention a year ago, in the first quarter of last year, was 65, and in the fourth quarter, it was 12. There were only two unaccompanied minors.
I am not saying that two isn’t of concern. Of course, it is. Every individual minor in detention is a cause for concern. But this in no way ought to be compared to what is happening to our friends in the south.
Senator Jaffer: Senator Harder, I’m not going to quibble with you about figures. Yours and mine are different. We may be looking at different things, and we can have different figures.
If we say we don’t do this, we should not do this for anybody. I have been a family lawyer all my life. One of the things that really disturb me is when the minister or you say that it’s in the best interest of the child. I cannot think of any child’s best interest in keeping them in detention, and I don’t think anyone here would say that it’s in the best interest of any child to keep them in detention.
Senator Harder, I want to put this to you. According to Rachel Kronick, who studied this issue along with several other scholars from McGill University:
Children are held in medium-security style prisons where they are constantly monitored by guards, where their personal effects are confiscated, where they don’t have adequate education or access to what they need for normal development.
Leader, I say to you, if we say that this does not happen in Canada, it should not even happen to one child. Can you please ask Minister Goodale when this practice is going to stop?
Senator Harder: I will indeed convey this to Minister Goodale who, as the house will know from his appearance in this chamber on this subject, has given a good deal of attention to ensuring the right policy framework is put in place to ensure that the detention of unaccompanied minors is scrutinized at the highest level.