A list of Canadian provinces that have announced they will stop holding holding in their jails migrants arrested by the Canada Border Services Agency on immigration-only grounds.

Canada: All 10 provinces to end immigration detention in jails

All 10 of Canada’s provinces have now committed to ending their immigration detention agreements and arrangements with the Canada Border Services Agency, a major victory for migrant and refugee rights, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International Canada said today. Newfoundland and Labrador, the last remaining province, has now confirmed that it will no longer allow the federal government to detain migrants and asylum seekers in local jails.

The two organizations created the #WelcomeToCanada campaign in October 2021 to urge provinces to stop the practice. The use of provincial jails for immigration detention is inconsistent with international human rights standards and devastating to people’s mental health. Canada’s federal government should follow the provinces and take meaningful steps to end immigration detention across the country.

‘A momentous human rights victory’

“Newfoundland and Labrador’s decision is a momentous human rights victory that upholds the dignity and rights of people who come to Canada in search of safety or a better life,” said Samer Muscati, acting disability rights deputy director at Human Rights Watch. “With all 10 provinces now having cancelled their immigration detention agreements and arrangements, the federal government should finally guarantee through a policy directive or legislative amendment that the border agency will stop using jails for immigration detention once and for all.”

Over the past five years, the border agency has incarcerated thousands of people on immigration grounds in dozens of provincial jails across the country, on the basis of agreements and arrangements with provinces. Conditions in provincial jails are abusive, and these facilities are inherently punitive. On March 12, 2024, the Newfoundland and Labrador government sent official notice to the border agency that as of March 31, 2025, its provincial jails will no longer hold people detained solely under immigration law. So far, the agreements in five provinces have expired following notice-of-termination periods, with the remaining five provinces’ agreements due to expire by March 2025. The border agency has sought to extend the agreements in some provinces.

In a 2021 report, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International documented that racialized people, and in particular Black men, are confined in more restrictive conditions and for longer periods in Canada’s immigration detention than other detainees. People with disabilities also experience discrimination throughout the immigration detention process.

People in immigration detention are regularly handcuffed, shackled, and held with little to no contact with the outside world. Canada is among only a few countries in the Global North with no legal limit on the duration of immigration detention, meaning people can be detained for months or years with no end in sight.

‘I remember that deep pain I felt in jail’

Sara Maria Gomez Lopez experienced immigration detention first-hand after she arrived in Canada as an asylum seeker in 2012. The border agency incarcerated her for three months in British Columbia. “I remember that deep pain I felt in jail,” she said. “Canada can and must stop multiplying such pain and instead give way to the humane welcome that has helped heal so many who found refuge in this country. This development gives me hope that others will be spared the pain that I experienced.”

Video: Sara Maria Gomez Lopez opens up about her experiences in immigration detention and stresses why the practice must end.

Since the #WelcomeToCanada campaign began, hundreds of advocates, lawyers, healthcare providers, and faith leaders, alongside people with lived experience in immigration detention as well as dozens of leading social justice organizations, have called on provincial and federal authorities to end the use of provincial jails for immigration detention. More than 30,000 people across Canada have also participated in the campaign by writing directly to provincial and federal authorities.

Under the agreements and arrangements, the border agency paid provinces hundreds of dollars daily for each immigration detainee incarcerated in a provincial jail. For example, according to the border agency, in the fiscal year ending March 2023, the agency paid CAD$615.80 per day for each woman detained in a New Brunswick jail. That same fiscal year, the agency spent $82.7 million on detention, more than in any of the previous four years.

Under immigration law, the border agency has full discretion over where people in immigration detention are held, with no legal standard guiding the agency’s decision to hold a person in a provincial jail rather than an immigration holding center. Once agreements and arrangements with the provinces expire, the agency will no longer have access to provincial jails for immigration detention. It also operates three immigration holding centres, which resemble and operate like medium-security prisons, with significant restrictions on privacy and liberty, rigid rules and daily routines, and punitive measures in response to failures to follow rules and orders.

Alternatives to immigration detention in Canada

There are viable alternatives to detention across the country. Instead of funding detention facilities or punitive non-custodial practices such as electronic trackers, the federal government should invest in rights-respecting, community-based programs that are operated by local nonprofit organizations independently of the border agency.

“We commend the provinces for their decisions to stop locking up refugee claimants and migrants in jails solely on immigration grounds,” said Ketty Nivyabandi, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada’s English-speaking section. “There is now clear pressure for the federal government to stop this rights-violating system across the country.”