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Concerns mount over 'criminalization' of detained migrants in Canada

A Canadian Border Services agent stands watch at Pearson International Airport in Toronto on Tuesday, December 8, 2015. The Canada Border Services Agency will soon force all border security officers working with detained migrants to wear defensive gear, including batons, pepper spray and bulletproof vests, a policy that's drawing widespread concern over a perceived "criminalization" of asylum seekers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

OTTAWA — The Canada Border Services Agency will soon force all border-security officers working with detained migrants to wear defensive gear, drawing widespread concern over a perceived “criminalization” of asylum-seekers.

The mandatory equipment includes batons, pepper spray and bulletproof vests.

The national policy was adopted internally last year after CBSA began moving what it deems “higher-risk immigration detainees” from provincial jails, where they were being held for security purposes, into one of the agency’s three immigration holding centres.

Information obtained under access-to-information law shows the agency decided all officers working in these centres must be outfitted in protective and defensive equipment to ensure a common operational approach.

But the changes have sparked concern this will create an environment in immigration detention centres akin to jail conditions and create a perception that all detained migrants in Canada are “criminals” worthy of punishment.

A group of doctors, lawyers, legal scholars and human-rights organizations have called on Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to cancel the policy — calls they say have been ignored.

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press


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