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UN experts warn Canada lacks proper oversight, safeguards for people behind bars

A panel of United Nations experts say Canada is failing to ensure equitable justice, citing trial delays and problems with initiatives meant to lower the rate of Indigenous people behind bars. A Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) sign is seen in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

OTTAWA - A panel of United Nations experts say Canada is failing to ensure equitable justice, citing trial delays and problems with initiatives meant to lower the rate of Indigenous people behind bars.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention also says there needs to be a cap on how long Ottawa can detain foreigners without charge.

And it notes the Canada Border Services Agency lacks any official oversight body, despite border guards interacting with some of the most vulnerable people in Canada.

Ottawa can detain foreigners without charge when it can't identify them, or when immigration officers suspect they won't show up to hearings that determine whether they can stay in Canada.

The panel visited four provinces just as Ottawa announced plans to use federal prisons for immigration detention, after provinces pulled out of agreements to use jails for that purpose.

Panel chair Matthew Gillett told reporters in Ottawa that oversight and accountability is what prevents countries like Canada from violating international law.

"Whilst we certainly hope that CBSA officials are conducting their jobs professionally and with the right ethical values, if there is no oversight mechanism, it simply increases the risk of mistakes and potentially even abuses occurring," he said at a news conference Friday.

The committee also said that initiatives meant to cut down on Indigenous people being disproportionately jailed are not being adequately run or funded.

They cited Gladue reports, which are meant to help courts understand how colonization shaped an offender's life, as an example of a system that is not working.

The panel argued the process to craft such reports can be ineffective and traumatizing for accused people.

The UN officials found that Canada does well overall when it comes to police avoiding excessive force and following proper arrest procedures.

It praised initiatives that have reduced incarceration, such as Ontario reforms for youth in custody.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 24, 2024.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version misspelled the last name of United Nations panel chair Matthew Gillett.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2024
The Canadian Press

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