1st Session, 42nd Parliament,
Volume 150, Issue 107

Thursday, March 30, 2017
The Honourable George J. Furey, Speaker

Public Safety

Canada Border Services Agency—Detention of Refugee Children

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, my question is also to the leader in the Senate. Leader, I know you will not be surprised by my question. I ask about this subject on a regular basis and I will continue to ask this question because it relates to the detention of young children in prison.

When the minister came to the Defence Committee almost a year ago, he said he was going to look into this matter. He said to us — and I took that as a commitment from him — that he was going to try to find a way not to detain children.

Leader, I was willing to wait and I got your response, and it has made me so angry that I am going to have to watch how I say this.

You tabled a response — and I’m sure you got this response from the minister’s office. In the response, it says:

. . . policy is clear in that children are detained only as a last resort and only after officers carefully consider what is in the best interest of the child(ren).

The best interest of the child is carefully considered? As you know, I was a lawyer for many years. For 40 years, I worked in protection cases. I went to the judge to tell him that it wasn’t in the best interest of the child to take the child away from the parents. Then I worked with family law. I told the judge that it wasn’t in the best interest of the child not to see his father or mother. Never in my life have I thought the best interest of a child would be to keep him in prison.

Leader, I’m not asking you to respond to this because I don’t think you would say this. I’m asking you to ask the minister to define what exactly he means by it is in “the best interest of a child” to keep him in prison. This is Canada.

The last time I spoke on this question, I mentioned that in France they immediately send children in similar situations to schools on a farm. I have personally visited this farm. And we in Canada send unaccompanied children to prison and we say that’s in the best interest of the child? Leader, that’s not acceptable.

I would like a commitment from you to get an answer from the minister to explain how he can justify saying that sending a child to prison is in the best interest of that child.

Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): I thank the honourable senator for her question. I would be happy to undertake that commitment.

I would also wish honourable senators to know that in the coming weeks I expect the minister responsible to be here for Senate Question Period. By no means does that mean I will not wait until then to raise the question, but I do know this issue and other issues involving Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada have raised very passionate concerns. They need to be debated and understood.

Senator Jaffer: Leader, this issue is not under the purview of the Department of Immigration; it falls under the responsibilities of the Minister of Public Safety, Mr. Goodale.

Leader, the detention of children, even for short periods, has a detrimental and lasting impact on their minds. The University of Toronto has indicated that, on average, 242 children were put into detention — 242 children are going into detention in Canada. I find that unbelievable.

I again ask you to please ask the minister how he can justify this practice when over a year ago he came to the Defence Committee and said he was going to put a stop to it.

Senator Harder: Again, I would be happy to do so. I would simply point out, though, that the University of Toronto study you referenced shows significant decline in 2016-17. I’m not for a moment suggesting that the number you cited is not one to be concerned about, but I do think that we ought to acknowledge that there’s been a significant decrease of those detention experiences and that the use of detention in the policy, as the honourable senator has pointed out, has been based on what is viewed as the best interest of the child.