CBSA considers electronic tracking of detainees rather than holding them in custody


CBSA considers electronic tracking of detainees rather than holding them in custody

Marie-Danielle Smith
Monday, May 23, 2016

OTTAWA — The Canada Border Services Agency is looking into tracking detainees electronically, rather than keeping them in custody.

A government tender posted online this month asks industry for feedback on how to manage alternatives to detention, “including a community supervision program supported with electronic supervision tools,” for people detained under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

In the criminal justice system, electronic supervision usually means using an ankle bracelet or something similar to track people via GPS or cellular data. It’s used in several Canadian jurisdictions, including Nova Scotia and Ontario.

The CBSA has the oft-criticized — and largely unchecked — power to hold non-Canadians  in migrant detention centres indefinitely. There are usually about 600 “clients” in custody, according to the tender.

In March, the agency said two people had died in custody in the space of a week, but gave no details. There have been at least a dozen similar deaths since 2000.

With the government promising to increase oversight, the agency appears to be looking for ways to reform its practices.

“Detention guidelines require CBSA officers to consider all reasonable alternatives before detaining someone for immigration purposes and will consider all release proposals presented by or on behalf of the detainee,” spokeswoman Wendy Atkin said.

These can include release on the condition that people report regularly to CBSA on their activities, cash deposits or bail programs.

The CBSA would not say whether it had tried ankle bracelets or the like.

But Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations do not mention the technology.

According to a Citizenship and Immigration manual, if a deposit is taken instead detention, migrants must “keep the peace and be of good behaviour,” report to immigration or border services officers when required and give 48 hours ‘notice of changes of address. There is no mention of electronic supervision.

The request for information, posted May 13, is looking for outside experts who can help provide “enhanced” alternatives “in the form of community-based services and programming,” said Atkin.

“Internal quality assurance monitoring and monitoring from stakeholders have highlighted the need to continue to build upon available alternatives to detention.”

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale plans to convene an all-party parliamentary committee this year to look at the activities of CBSA and other security and intelligence agencies.

“We will also be looking at where there are gaps or holes in the existing architecture,” Goodale said in a scrum Wednesday.

“One obvious one is CBSA, the border services agency that has no review mechanism whatsoever.”

Electronic monitoring became a contentious topic after a judge ruled in September having to wear an ankle bracelet was too restrictive for Omar Khadr, the former Guantanamo Bay prisoner, who returned to Canada in 2012 and was released on bail last May.

Because Khadr is a Canadian citizen, border services and immigration systems would not have been responsible for monitoring him.