On Tuesday, December 1, 2015, I had the distinct pleasure of taking part in a cause, which, before this date, I had no knowledge of. In some ways, I would have liked to remain ignorantly blissful of this issue, and had I not attended this event, it would have likely been the case.
The activist group End Immigration Detention (EID) led by Trent alumni Sasha Patterson hosted a small group of volunteers, myself included, at Black Honey on Tuesday evening to write letters of encouragement in light of the holiday season to inmates of the Lindsay maximum security prison.
However, the inmates they are writing to are not your typical high-risk tenants of the Lindsay jail. In some cases, these people have not violated our Canadian laws more than you or I, but are being held for what seems like an indefinite period of time with no forthcoming trial in sight.
These inmates are migrants to Canada, and many of these individuals have lived in Canada for close to 30 years. So, you may ask yourself, “Okay, well, why are these people in a maximum security prison then?” The answer is, in fact, a chilling one. It turns out, thanks to our distinguished and (thankfully) former Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his “tough on crime” prison policies, there are now over 80,000 migrants in provincial maximum security prisons such as the Lindsay jail. In some cases, these individuals have been detained for over 10 years with no end in sight, for such inconsequential infractions such as overstaying their immigration visas.
Where this all starts to get fishy for me is when I learned that the violation of an immigration visa (this includes students, tourists, foreign workers, etc.) is considered, under the criminal code, an administrative offence. For those not familiar, this is the equivalent to your average city parking ticket. Could you imagine sitting in a maximum security prison for 10+ years for something as meagre as parking in a fire route?
In late 2013, the inmates afflicted by this Canadian judicial malpractice took matters into their own hands in the only way they could think of while behind bars. On September 17, 191 detained migrants began a hunger strike while incarcerated at the Lindsay jail. The end goal of this strike was simply to prompt Canada to adopt policies that are common practice in most other developed areas around the world, including the United States and the United Kingdom.
These practices state that any migrant jailed, whether it be due to a criminal offence or visa violation, should be subject to no more than 90 days in prison, at which time the offender should either be released or deported back to their home country. This time in prison is recommended by the UN, and is referred to as a “presumptive period.”
The frustration for these inmates that has been festering among them during this time of injustice has leaked to the outside world, and has been received with an over pouring of support by people like Sasha and countless others. These ambitious and driven groups of individuals have organized with the community in order to make events such as holiday card-writing, a possibility.
While in attendance, I did my part as best I could and wrote two letters of encouragement. End Immigration also took the initiative on September 17, 2014 to protest outside the Lindsay jail on one of the coldest days of the year to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the commencement of the hunger strike.
As well as this being a gross injustice and violation of human rights, Canadians can also take a look at this through an economic viewpoint. Like all other inmates of Canadian prisons, it is our tax dollars that are funding the migrants’ indefinite stay in prisons across Canada. According to the information sheet given by EID, it costs roughly $239/day to keep an inmate in a maximum-security prison.
Which means that, in total, Canadian tax-payers have paid over $50 million (comparable to four years of tuition for close to 1.8 million students) to keep these individuals behind bars, in our own backyard.
Sasha and her team have done a tremendous amount of work to help these people in need, and in light of the controversy surrounding whether or not Canada should be welcoming Syrian refugees, it is good to know that there are still true humanitarians out there who care. The EID group also discovered that, although the majority of these inmates have family in their home countries, international phone calls are prohibited.
This prompted the group to set up a separate local phone line so the inmates would be able to call them and speak with them at any time. If you would like to learn more about this cause, how you can help, or if you would even like to send a holiday letter to these individuals, please visit their website.