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Table of contents


On August 15, 2016, the Honourable Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, announced Canada's new National Immigration Detention Framework. As part of this announcement, the Minister outlined an investment of up to $138 million to transform the immigration detention system in Canada. The new National Immigration Detention Framework (herein after referred to as the "Framework") will enhance alternatives to detention (ATDs) and include key investments in federal immigration detention infrastructure to address failing and inadequate immigration holding centres (IHCs) in Laval, Quebec and Vancouver, British Columbia and Toronto, Ontario.

In order to ensure that detention is truly a last resort, the Government of Canada is expanding the availability of ATDs, including developing partnerships to deliver a community-based supervision program for released detainees. By implementing the Framework, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) is taking concrete steps to exercise its responsibility for detentions to the highest possible standards, with mental health and well-being of detainees, as well as the safety and security of Canadians as the primary considerations. These key investments will significantly improve detention conditions in CBSA's IHCs, reduce the reliance on provincial facilities and better align with international and domestic standards for immigration detention.

Broad consultations are critical to the implementation of the Framework and to ensuring program transparency. Increasing public and stakeholder interest surrounding immigration detention led the CBSA to organize roundtables with key stakeholders from across Canada (see Annex A) between August and December 2016. Their feedback provided the CBSA with meaningful input and recommendations to refine program and facility design, and implement new national standards and policies. The salient points of those consultations and of what stakeholders had to say are captured in this document.

It is in the same spirit that we are now broadening engagement with Canadians to seek further views on ATDs, detention policies aimed at increasing medical and mental health services and support for individuals within the IHCs as well as reducing the number of minors in detention and long-term detention to the greatest extent possible, and infrastructure design. Furthermore, with transparency as a pillar of the Framework, we are committed to ensuring key stakeholders and Canadians have improved access to information on the progress of the Framework, including the publication of immigration detention statistics.

We look forward to building on the content of this Summary Report by receiving your input. We continue to welcome a dialogue with stakeholders and other partners on how to improve and minimize immigration detention while protecting the safety and security of Canadians.

Part I – Background on Immigration Detention

The CBSA ensures Canada's security and prosperity by facilitating and overseeing international travel and trade across Canada's border.

The CBSA supports national security and public safety priorities and secures the border by screening people and goods. More specifically, foreign nationals, permanent residents and refugee claimants are screened to prevent people from entering or staying in Canada illegally. In carrying out this mandate, officers may arrest, detain and remove foreign nationals or permanent residents who are not permitted in Canada. Removing individuals who do not have the right to enter or stay in Canada is essential to maintaining the integrity of Canada's immigration program and to ensuring fairness for those who come to this country lawfully.

More specifically, CBSA officers are authorized to detain a foreign national or permanent resident at a port of entry if:

CBSA officers can also detain a foreign national if:

  1. they have reasonable grounds to believe the person is
    • unlikely to appear for an immigration proceeding (e.g., examination, hearing, removal);
    • a danger to the public;
    • unable to satisfy the officer of their identity.
  2. they are designated as part of an irregular arrival by the Minister of Public Safety.

Immigration detention is not punitive, but exercised under the law (Immigration and Refugee Protection Act or IRPA) under clear parameters to ensure the integrity of the immigration system and to ensure public safety. Detention is a last resort and ATDs must always be considered first.

Generally, immigration detention is avoided for children or other vulnerable groups such as pregnant women, elderly persons, persons who are ill or disabled or persons with behavioural or mental health issues. However, where safety or security is an issue, immigration detention is considered for the shortest time possible and primarily focused on supporting the removal of those individuals.

Please consult the CBSA website for more information about detentions including detention reviews, release from detention, key detention principles, facilities used for immigration detention and special considerations for vulnerable populations.

Immigration Detention in Numbers

Overall Detention

On an average day as many as 450-500 individuals are in detention across Canada under IRPA. The average length of detention is 23 days. In 2015-2016, the CBSA detained a total of 6,596 individuals, approximately 0.02% of the near 32 million non-citizens who entered Canada. Canada's rate of immigration detention is significantly lower than comparable countries, such as Australia and the United Kingdom (over 30,000 persons detained every year) and the United States (over 440,000 persons every year). Year over year, the number of detentions in Canada has gone down despite the increase in number of non-citizens entering Canada. Over the last five years, the number of detentions in Canada has dropped by 27%. In 2015-2016, the overall average length of detention fell slightly (nearly 6%) over the previous year, when the average length of detention peaked (24.5 days).

Figure 1

Fiscal Year # of entries by foreign nationals to Canada # of persons detained Detainees as a % of entries by foreign nationals to Canada Average length of detention (days) Detained in a CBSA facility (IHC) Regional Breakdown of Total Detentions*
Atlantic Provinces Prairies Provinces B.C. & Yukon Quebec Ontario
2015-2016 31,940,610 6,596 0.020% 23.1 66% 29 330 1,481 1,245 3,660
2014-2015 29,938,646 6,768 0.022% 24.5 66% 28 467 1,279 1,156 3,962
2013-2014 28,371,259 7,722 0.027% 23 69% 29 460 1,406 1,288 4,675
2012-2013 27,412,327 8,739 0.031% 20 70% 35 440 1,667 1,271 5,519
2011-2012 26,303,506 9,043 0.034% 19 71% 50 395 1,893 1,364 5,529

*The sum of the regional breakdown is greater than the total number of detainees due to transfers between regions.


In 2015-2016, 201 minors were detained or housed with parents or guardians in an IHC. Over the last two fiscal years (2014-2015 and 2015-2016), there has been a 14% decrease in the number of minors held in an IHC for immigration-related reasons. So far this fiscal year (2016-2017), 121 minors have been held in an IHC. If the current trend continues to fiscal year-end a further decrease in the number of minors held in an IHC is expected, with an estimated decrease of 22% over 2015-2016. The average length of time a minor spends in an IHC has also seen a decrease. Based on the numbers for the first nine months of this fiscal year, there should be a further decrease by fiscal year end.

Figure 2

Fiscal Year Minors accompanied by parent/guardian* Unaccompanied minors Average length of time in a facility (days) Total # minors in a facility
Apr 1/2016 – Dec 31/2016 114 7 9.4 121
2015-2016 181 20 14.1 201
2014-2015 220 12 16 232

*Minors accompanied by a parent/guardian in a facility include foreign nationals, permanent residents and Canadian citizens. Not all accompanied minors are formally detained – some are housed with their parent/guardian if it is determined to be in the best interest of the child. A Canadian citizen minor may be housed with their parent/guardian if it is determined to be in the best interest of the child but can never be detained.

Part II – The New National Immigration Detention Framework

Increasing public interest and stakeholder concerns over the past few years surrounding detention issues led to a program review in 2014-2015. Stakeholder concerns include the co-mingling of immigration detainees with criminals as a result of the over-reliance on provincial correctional facilities, the care and monitoring of individuals with mental health issues, the detention of children, the lack of nationally-available ATDs and the inadequate conditions at some IHCs.

The Framework's goal is to create a better and fairer immigration detention system whereby persons are treated with compassion and dignity while upholding public safety. By implementing the Framework, the CBSA is taking determined action to address long-standing challenges in immigration detention related to infrastructure, policy, operational procedures and detainee health and welfare. The CBSA commits to exercising its responsibility for detentions to the highest possible standards, with the physical and mental health and well-being of detainees as well as the safety and security of Canadians as primary considerations.

The New National Immigration Detention Framework was created recognizing the need to:

The New National Immigration Detention Framework initiatives include:

Alternatives to Detention

ATDs are a means by which detention can be avoided or release from detention can be allowed by using risk-appropriate tools that provide the individual with community support, while ensuring the CBSA has tools to monitor, locate and apprehend the individual if they fail to comply as directed.

Although CBSA's existing guidelines clearly indicate that detention is to be used as a last resort and officers must consider ATDs before ordering a person detained, there are currently significant gaps in the availability of ATDs across the country which results in a higher population being held in detention.

Currently, the only tools that are available nationally are the release of the individual to a bondsperson on a performance bond and/or a cash deposit, and the imposition of other conditions, such as regular reporting to the CBSA. The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) has a wider array of available ATDs: an effective community case management program via a contracted third party (Toronto Bail Program) facilitates the release of eligible detainees; and, a compliance management program whereby individuals can report weekly by calling the CBSA (voice reporting).

To build upon this foundation, the CBSA is working to implement a national ATD program to improve national consistency through the expansion of community programming and voice reporting.

Community programming could be considered for eligible foreign nationals or permanent residents who are adequately supported by family/kin to ensure in-person reporting and/or a cash and/or performance bond. Alternatively, the person could be entrusted to a third-party community case management partner that would act as a guardian and assist clients to ensure their compliance with any and all terms and conditions, and provide them with social support that will enable them to comply with immigration requirements.

In addition to community programming, the CBSA is working to implement a national voice reporting program to monitor, track, locate and apprehend if necessary individuals who are released within the community. Electronic supervision tools, such as voice reporting allows for voice registration and recognition and as required, based on level of risk, the ability to track the person's location should there be a failure to comply with reporting conditions or an attempt to abscond.

What stakeholders said about ATDs


The most significant challenges facing the detention program and the common theme reflected in stakeholder criticism is the inadequacies of the existing infrastructure. The poor physical state and design and space limitations of the existing CBSA IHCs is the direct root cause of certain program deficiencies and, at the same time, inhibits the ability to build and deliver program improvements. Approximately two-thirds of the total number of days spent in immigration detention in Canada is in provincial jails, and one-third in IHCs due to the lack of adequate CBSA-operated detention capacity.

In Ontario, the current IHC in Toronto is operated by a private sector service-provider but is not designed or serviced to hold individuals who are considered to be a modestly higher risk (e.g.., those with a non-violent criminal history).

In Quebec, the facility in Laval was built in the mid-1950s and adapted for use as a CBSA IHC in 1996. Given its current state of disrepair and inadequate design, it does not comply with international norms for immigration detention. Due to limitations with space in provincial correctional facilities in Quebec, all detainees, except the highest public safety risk, are managed in the IHC. This site does not have on-site access to IRB hearings.

In British Columbia, the Vancouver IHC, a short-term facility, is located at the Vancouver International Airport. The facility was reconstructed and occupied by the CBSA in 1999. People are held at this IHC for a maximum of 48 hours. Given its current state and design, it does not comply with international norms for immigration detention. All detainees in the region, including low and medium-risk, held beyond 48 hours are detained in a provincial facility due to the IHCs severe limitations. In addition, because people are held for a maximum of 48 hours, there is no on-site access to IRB hearings and no access to educational programming, or health care providers on site.

Moving forward, the Government of Canada will significantly improve infrastructure: a new Crown-built IHC in Quebec (Greater Montréal Area), a refurbished Crown-owned IHC in British Columbia (Surrey) and an enhanced IHC in Toronto will see an important reduction in the use of provincial correctional facilities, improved national standards and improved detainee well-being. The facilities will be designed to include video conferencing facilities for IRB hearings and provide better programming and access to services.

Infrastructure Design

Design has been undertaken to achieve the following outcomes, to the extent possible, in order to enhance detainee well-being within an IHC nationally:

Ultimately these key investments will significantly improve conditions at CBSA IHCs, to better align with national and international standards for immigration detention.

What stakeholders said about infrastructure

IHC layout
Videoconferencing facilities (for IRB detention reviews and other immigration enforcement proceedings)
Provincial facilities

Review of National Detention Policies and Standards

The new National Immigration Detention Framework includes an ongoing review of detention policies and standards to ensure a better, fairer immigration detention system. Policies and standards that adhere to national and international obligations for the treatment of detained individuals and which can be evenly applied across the country are critical to ensuring the integrity of Canada's immigration detention practices.

The CBSA is currently conducting a broad review of detention policies and standards, focussing largely on four key areas: minors and detention and preservation of the family unit; mental health and medical health services within its IHCs; long-term detention; and national detention standards.

Minors and Detention

Canada only allows for the detention of minors (under 18 years) in exceptional circumstances, as a measure of last resort, for a legitimate purpose and for the shortest possible period (refer to Figure 2). Furthermore, the Government only does so after having considered the best interests of the child which include, among other factors: the availability of alternative arrangements with local child care agencies or child protection services; the anticipated length of detention; the type of detention facility envisaged and the conditions of detention; and the availability of services in the detention facility, including education, medical services, counselling and recreation.

Generally, unaccompanied minors are not detained, but released into the care of provincial child protection services. Detention of a minor, however, is not precluded where the minor is considered a security risk or a danger to the public (usually older minors) or for the shortest possible period of time to make alternative arrangements for care. Unaccompanied minors are not held with adults when detained. Currently, accompanied minors may be housed with their detained parent(s)/guardian in a CBSA IHC if appropriate facilities are available and it is determined to be in the child's best interest.

The CBSA is committed to reducing the housing and detention of minors and the separation of families to the greatest extent possible and is currently reviewing its policies and standards. Going forward, the availability of community-based ATDs is expected to drastically reduce the number of children in detention facilities and minimize separation from parents. In cases where ATDs are not suitable for parents, new detention facilities will allow for family unity and continued access to education, recreational opportunities, medical services and proper nutrition.

What stakeholders said about minors and detention

Medical and Mental Health Services

The CBSA policy stipulates that, where safety or security is not an issue, detention is to be avoided or considered only as a last resort for vulnerable individuals, including persons with mental health issues. However, if detention is necessary, it should be for the shortest time possible and primarily focused on supporting the removal of that individual. Upon arrest and detention, the CBSA officer must complete the medical form which allows detainees to self-identify any medical and/or mental health issues. All detainees admitted to the Toronto or Laval IHCs are assessed by a medical professional on staff. If mental health issues are identified, the medical staff will develop an appropriate treatment plan. In Vancouver, because the IHC does not have medical services given its short-term capacity (48 hours), if behavioural or mental health concerns are identified, the individual is referred to BC Corrections for a full assessment by a qualified medical professional.

The CBSA is committed to providing consistent and increased access to health services at its three IHCs in efforts to better address the physical and mental health needs of detainees.  More support is required to provide essential access to on-site medical, nursing and psychological care in the IHCs on a 24/7 basis. Options are also being explored for the use of local mental health support services, and placement of individuals with significant mental health needs in appropriate provincial or other mental health care facilities including those released using the community programming component of ATDs.

The CBSA has already implemented suicide and self-harm prevention training for officers and IHC guards.  In support of the CBSA's Strategy to Support Mental Health and the goals of prevention, intervention and support for employees and people in its care, mental health awareness online training is mandatory for all CBSA employees. Mental Health First Aid training is also mandatory for officers working in IHCs, inland enforcement and land border ports of entry. Further training (i.e., de-escalation techniques) is also being developed to help provide additional tools in crisis situations.

What stakeholders said about medical and mental health services

Long-Term Detention

Currently, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and Regulations do not identify time limits for detention. However, there are checks and balances that provide for regular reviews of each individual detention by the IRB, an independent administrative tribunal. Despite these provisions, some stakeholders have advocated for specific legislated detention time limits that would require the release of any individual detained beyond 90 days. Factors that contribute to the length of detention include:

The CBSA is currently exploring potential policy changes together with the use of ATDs to reduce the length of detention for individuals that do not pose a danger to Canadian society and who collaborate with the government in completing their immigration processes, including up to removal from Canada as required.

What stakeholders said about long-term detention

National Detention Standards for IHCs

The National Detention Standards are the overarching guidelines for the operations of each IHC. The current standards have been in effect for more than 10 years, are outdated and have many gaps. 

Inadequate infrastructure has prevented fully consistent application of the standards, leading to varying detention practices across the CBSA's three IHCs. The CBSA is developing new and expanded standards that will provide extensive direction, address identified gaps, improve national consistency and strengthen monitoring. The revised standards will be published on the CBSA website when completed.


Transparency is a pillar of the new National Immigration Detention Framework. In keeping with the Government of Canada's commitment to transparency and openness, the CBSA began publishing immigration detention statistics on its website on November 1, 2016 (refer also to Figure 1 and Figure 2). Statistics will be updated annually and the Agency is planning to publish more detailed statistics on a quarterly basis and program improvements on an ongoing basis. The Government will also continue to consult with stakeholders and provide updates on the progress of the Framework. New partnerships will be forged and existing relationships strengthened both at the national and regional levels with key partners and stakeholders, such as the Canadian Red Cross, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Canadian Council for Refugees, mental health organizations, immigration representatives, the academic sector and provinces.


What stakeholders said about transparency

Designated representatives


The CBSA is committed to informing and engaging Canadians on government programming and policy proposals. Input received through this important citizen engagement activity will help inform transformations of Canada's immigration detention program. Constructive input from stakeholders and Canadians on the new National Immigration Detention Framework is critical to establishing a detention program that reflects Canadian democratic values ― one that is better, fairer and provides humane and dignified treatment of individuals while upholding public safety. Expanding the availability and use of ATDs, working closely with trusted partners, improving immigration detention infrastructure and thoroughly reviewing detention policies and standards are critical to transforming Canada's immigration detention program.

The CBSA is also committed to providing opportunities for Canadians to contribute to the Framework and bring forward ideas that support a safer, more secure and humane detention program that is both sustainable and affordable and that meets Canada's national and international obligations and responsibilities.

Annex A - List of Stakeholders who were engaged or provided input in writing

Note: Individual consultants and lawyers from across Canada were also consulted.

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