Border agency deploys technology to cut the number of refugee claimants being detained

Canada’s border agency will start using voice reporting and GPS tools to track some refugee claimants and other foreign nationals as an alternative to detaining them.

The federal government can detain individual refugee claimants indefinitely; some have been held for months, even years, while their claims are processed. On Tuesday, the Canada Border Services Agency officially announced the introduction of new tools as part of its effort to find alternatives to detention.

CBSA officials, speaking to reporters during a technical briefing on background, said they would assess claimants’ eligibility for alternatives to detention by deciding whether they pose a threat to public safety and whether they would comply with release conditions.

The border agency says detention should be treated as “a last resort.”

Officials said families, minors and people with disabilities would be considered “first and foremost” for alternatives to detention.

Agreements with third-party service providers — including the Salvation Army, the John Howard Society of Canada and the Toronto Bail Program — already have been signed to track people released into the community with conditions.

The issue of immigration detention became a lightning rod in the U.S. after President Donald Trump announced a “zero tolerance” policy which separated thousands of children from their parents at the border. Trump retreated after an international outcry, and the government is now in the process of reuniting many of those children with their parents to comply with a federal court order.

In Canada, 7,364 people were held in detention for an average of 12 days in the nine-month period ending March 31, 2018.

In that same period, 155 minors were held in detention — five of them were not accompanied by their parents.

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