While generally praising the rule of law in Canada, a team of United Nations human rights experts voiced “great concern” at the fact that there are now more persons deprived of their liberty awaiting trial or sentencing, at any one time, than there are persons actually serving a sentence in detention, following national sentencing reform.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, headed by Leila Zerrougui, highlighted concerns over both pre-sentencing detention in the criminal justice system, as well as the detention of asylum seekers and immigrants, at a press conference in Ottawa on the conclusion of a 15-day visit to the country at the Government’s invitation.
The team stressed that such detention affected marginalized persons the most.
“Detention on remand disparately impacts on vulnerable social groups, such as the poor, persons living with mental health problems, Aboriginal people and racial minorities,” the team said. In addition, they said, Canada’s vast geography often made access to legal counsel difficult for such people, even though the right to counsel is enshrined in law.
In regard to the detention of immigrants, the team expressed concern over several aspects of detention under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) that hampered the ability of immigrants to seek release from detention, including the lack of a requirement for counsel for their first review hearings.
The UN Working Group's visit, which was mandated by the Geneva-based UN Commission on Human Rights, included stops at 13 detention centres throughout Canada. In addition to talking to Government officials and representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the members interviewed approximately 150 detainees.
The Group will present its final report on Canada to the Commission's next session, which opens next March in Geneva. It has conducted previous fact-finding missions in countries as diverse as Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Iran, Mexico, Peru and the United Kingdom, it said, and last year visited China, Latvia and Belarus.