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Hundreds of nonviolent immigration detainees sent to max-security jails as part of ‘abhorrent’ government program

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Canada’s immigration authorities locked up nearly 1,500 nonviolent immigration detainees in maximum-security jails last year, the Star has found.

These detainees have been incarcerated in the most restrictive conditions possible alongside sentenced criminals and those awaiting trial on serious charges.

Ebrahim Toure, pictured here at the Central East Correctional Centre in February 2017, spent the first four-and-a-half of his five-and-a-half years in immigration detention in a maximum-security jail. A year before his eventual release a Superior Court judge ordered his tranfer to a less restrictive immigration holding centre, saying that holding Toure in a maximum-security jail was “grossly disproportionate” to the risk he posed and the reason he was being detained.
Ebrahim Toure, pictured here at the Central East Correctional Centre in February 2017, spent the first four-and-a-half of his five-and-a-half years in immigration detention in a maximum-security jail. A year before his eventual release a Superior Court judge ordered his tranfer to a less restrictive immigration holding centre, saying that holding Toure in a maximum-security jail was “grossly disproportionate” to the risk he posed and the reason he was being detained.  (Anne-Marie Jackson / Toronto Star file photo)

While they may have criminal records, the detainees were not considered dangerous by the Immigration and Refugee Board. Almost all were detained solely on the grounds that they were unlikely to appear for their immigration hearing.

A Star analysis of government statistics from April 1, 2017 to March 31, 2018, found that 80 per cent of immigration detainees held in provincial jails — rather than less restrictive immigration holding centres — were not detained on the grounds that they were dangers to the public. Data from the months since then shows the rate is unchanged. All provincial jails are maximum security.

“It’s abhorrent for the government to be placing people in maximum-security jails that it acknowledges are not a danger,” said Subodh Bharati, an immigration lawyer at the Community and Legal Aid Services Program at Osgoode Hall Law School. Bharati said that by the government’s own description, immigration detention is explicitly administrative and not punitive. “But incarceration in a maximum-security jail is punitive by its very nature.”

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has for several years repeated his government’s commitment to “minimize the use of provincial jails” for immigration detainees as part of an overall plan to create a “better” and “fairer” system for immigration detention in Canada.

While the Liberals have reduced the use of jails — roughly one-third of all immigration detainees were sent to provincial jails under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, compared to 20 per cent last year — the latest statistics show that more than three years after Goodale’s Liberals took power, Canada continues to routinely use them for nonviolent detainees.

“Among that population is people who have been trafficked and asylum seekers who may be recovering from trauma of one kind or another,” said Jared Will, an immigration lawyer who has long challenged Canada’s immigration detention system. “You’re putting them in a terrifying and sometimes objectively dangerous environment when there’s no justification for doing it whatsoever.”

Goodale declined to be interviewed for this story, but a spokesman provided a written response to the Star’s questions, saying the government has made a number of changes and continues to work to “dramatically reduce” the use of provincial jails for immigration detention.

Scott Bardsley cited the expansion of alternatives to detention, revamped risk assessments of detainees and the ongoing upgrades to immigration holding centres as among the government’s efforts. “We are implementing reforms in an effective and orderly way that maintains public safety.”

The use of jails and the “co-mingling” of immigration detainees with criminal detainees has been repeatedly cited by human rights groups, detainee advocates and the United Nations as a major problem with Canada’s immigration detention system.

“We would never take these sorts of measures against citizens,” said Hanna Gros, a lawyer at the University of Toronto’s International Human Rights Program. “But somehow it’s okay to take these measures against non-citizens, who are often not criminals and most certainly not serving time for any criminal behaviour.”

Ebrahim Toure, who had no history of violence and was not considered a danger to the public, spent the first four-and-a-half of his five-and-a-half years in immigration detention in a maximum-security jail. The Canada Border Services Agency said he was a “higher risk” detainee due to his “criminality” in the U.S., which consisted of a decade-old conviction for selling pirated CDs and DVDs, an offence for which he served no jail time.

A year before he was eventually released from detention, Superior Court Justice Alfred O’Marra ordered Toure’s immediate transfer to an immigration holding centre, saying that detaining him in such restrictive conditions was “grossly disproportionate” to the risk he posed and the reason he was being detained. O’Marra noted that Toure had spent more time in maximum-security jail “than someone convicted of a serious crime of violence.”

Immigration detention in Canada occurs in two types of facilities: federal immigration holding centres, of which there are three across the country, and provincial jails.

Immigration detainees are not criminally charged, but when they are sent to a provincial jail they are treated the same as any other prisoner. They wear orange jumpsuits, are regularly strip searched and are subject to frequent lockdowns — when they are confined to their cells without being able to shower, go outside or see visitors. Sometimes a lockdown lasts days or weeks.

Immigration holding centres are medium-security facilities exclusively for immigration detainees. Detainees are not locked in their rooms, are able to move much more freely within the facility and have easier access to phones and visitors. There is one in Toronto, one outside Montreal in Laval, Que., and a short-term holding centre at the Vancouver airport that will soon be replaced by a new facility in Surrey, B.C. None of the immigration holding centres are at or near capacity.

The Canada Border Services Agency has the power to indefinitely detain non-citizens on one, or a combination, of the following three grounds: They are a danger to the public; they are unlikely to appear for their deportation or other immigration matters (what officials call “flight risk”); or their identity is in doubt.

After a person is detained, they have a quasi-judicial hearing at the Immigration and Refugee Board, where the CBSA makes its arguments and a government-appointed adjudicator decides whether detention should continue. Some detainees have lawyers, but many represent themselves at the hearings, which occur after the first 48 hours, seven days and then every 30 days thereafter.

What is not discussed at the hearing is in what kind of facility the detainee will be held. That decision is made solely by the CBSA and is not subject to any external oversight. This aspect of the system was criticized by Justice O’Marra, who, when ordering Toure’s transfer to an immigration holding centre in 2017, said the current system “contains no mechanism to ensure proportionality between the flight risk which he has been found to be and the actual conditions of his detention.”

To determine where a detainee will be placed, a CBSA officer fills out a form known as a National Risk Assessment for Detention, which was revised last year. The Star revealed problems with the risk assessment forms in 2017, including officers leaving key areas blank and, in one instance, an officer admitting on the form that they had not been trained to fill it out. The new form has been in place since last February.

Detainees used to be classified as high, medium or low risk, but they are now graded on a point scale based on nine questions intended to assess their relative risk. A history of violent behaviour or associations with organized crime, for example, will lead to a higher risk score and a placement in a provincial jail. Detainees with no history or association with violence should score lower on the risk scale and be sent to an immigration holding centre.

The new form still allows considerable discretion. If a detainee scores between five and nine points, it’s up to the officer filling it out whether they are sent to a provincial jail or immigration holding centre. If an immigration detainee is apprehended outside of the greater Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver areas, they are often automatically sent to a provincial jail, regardless of the risk they pose.

The Maplehurst Correctional Complex, a maximum-security jail in Milton, Ont., is home to hundreds of immigration detainees each year. Last year it held 18 per cent of all the immigration detainees in provincial jails across the country.
The Maplehurst Correctional Complex, a maximum-security jail in Milton, Ont., is home to hundreds of immigration detainees each year. Last year it held 18 per cent of all the immigration detainees in provincial jails across the country.  (Anne-Marie Jackson)

The CBSA said it has “observed a significant reduction” in the use of jails since the revised NRAD form was implemented nearly a year ago. First-quarter statistics from the current fiscal year show the number of detainees sent to jails declined by two percentage points compared to the prior year’s rate.

The CBSA said they have been reviewing cases “on a regular basis to ensure that the placement of individuals is appropriate and in line with their determined level of risk.”

One of the most confusing explanations the government has given for why it has relied so heavily on provincial jails for immigration detention is that its own immigration holding centres were not equipped to handle the kinds of detainees its policies said they should. Detainees with nonviolent criminal records should be held in an immigration holding centre, not a provincial jail, according to CBSA’s detention guidelines. But Toronto’s Immigration Holding Centre needed to be renovated so they could accommodate such detainees. Renovations were originally scheduled to be completed last July, but now the agency says it will be spring before they are finished.

Meanwhile, new immigration holding centres in Surrey and Laval are expected to be complete by the end of this year and 2021, respectively. The new facilities, which will replace existing ones, will allow the CBSA to make them the “default detention location for most detainees,” Bardsley said. The government says provincial jails will still be used for the “highest risk” detainees and in parts of the country where there is no immigration holding centre.

The Central East Correctional Centre, a maximum-security provincial jail in Lindsay, Ont., is home to hundreds of immigration detainees each year, including many who have been detained for months or years. The so-called “superjail,” which can hold up to 1,184 prisoners, is notorious for its high number of lockdowns and incidents of violence. Last February, correctional officers at the jail walked off the job citing unsafe work conditions.

It’s where Toure, who was released in September on a number of conditions, spent the bulk of his half-decade in detention before his court-ordered transfer to the Immigration Holding Centre. He told the Star in a recent interview that he was randomly attacked by other inmates on two occasions during his time at Central East. In one instance, he said he was hospitalized after being sucker-punched. “When you’re in jail you never feel safe,” he said.

Toure said that while he was inside the Immigration Holding Centre, his quality of life was much better than it was at Central East. “When they put you in Lindsay, you’re a criminal,” he said. “Those guards don’t know who you are and they aren’t going to treat you any different.”

The harsh conditions of the jail included twice-a-week strip searches, when jail guards would order him to undress and then handcuff him before they searched his mouth and anus. Lockdowns were also frequent. Records entered as evidence in Toure’s court challenge showed that all of his lockdowns added up to nearly a year-and-a-half confined to a six-by-12-foot cell. Toure says he once endured a single lockdown of more than two weeks.

Immigration detainees in provincial jails are also subject to solitary confinement, sometimes for several months at a time. Forty-five immigration detainees in Ontario jails spent time in solitary confinement between April 1 and May 31 of last year, according to a snapshot of government statistics released in November as part of a legal settlement. One-third of those detainees spent more than 15 consecutive days in segregation, including four who had been segregated for more than 130 consecutive days. United Nations guidelines recommend a 15-day limit on solitary confinement. All four of the detainees who spent more than 130 days in solitary were segregated for “multiple reasons,” according to the data. All four also had a mental health “alert,” signalling possible issues with their mental health.

At Toure’s court challenge, a psychiatrist testified that Toure — who was never put in segregation — suffered from “major problems” with his mental health, including auditory and visual hallucinations. The psychiatrist could not say whether Toure’s mental health problems were caused by his indefinite incarceration in a maximum-security jail, but he said they were definitely exacerbated by it.

Toure says he only started hearing voices during his time in jail. He said he still has nightmares and often wakes up screaming.

Brendan Kennedy is a Toronto-based investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @BKennedyStar

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Anglais

‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Anglais

Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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