A day in the hands of Canadian immigration authorities
It was 4:55 a.m. on Unit 2A in Fraser Regional Correctional Centre (FRCC) where the immigration detainees were held. All was quiet and everyone was asleep except for detainee Bobak, who spent the better part of the night throwing up because of a stomach illness. At 5:00 a.m., Correctional Officer Casha came to the unit to inform the detainees expected in court that day that they should get up and get ready to be transported to the immigration facilities in Downtown Vancouver, about two hours away from FRCC.
The CO knocked on the doors of detainees LH, JL, AS, and Bobak. Bobak immediately informed the officer of his illness and explained that he should be taken to the healthcare clinic rather than the immigration facilities. Bobak also told the officer he did not have court that day and he was aware that his next court date was scheduled for two weeks later. The CO said, “You must go.” He then left to round up the other three detainees, taking them to a holding tank in the records area of the jail. He returned to the unit and called the Emergency Response Team to deal with Bobak, stating that he was uncooperative.
A team of more than ten ERT officers clad in riot gear arrived at Unit 2A. As many of them as possible went into the tiny cell where Bobak was lying down on the bed. They handcuffed his hands behind his back, pushed his head against the wall, and proceeded to kick him multiple times. Bobak later said he felt multiple hands pushing against his head, maybe 5 or 6. All throughout this time, Bobak was telling them that their actions were not warranted since he was sick and had no court scheduled for that day. His pleas went ignored. They picked him up by his shoulders and dragged him outside the unit. There the insults started coming at him from all sides: “Go back to your ******* country,” “If you come to this country you should obey and go to court.” Bobak again reminded the ignorant officers that he did not have court that day. Other officers were laughing at him as they kicked him and told him that he should not be in this country at all, and that Canada did not want any refugees and Bobak should not have come to seek refuge in Canada. They were pushing his buttons to see if he would react aggressively. They were baiting him so they could have an excuse to get more aggressive with him. Some of them live for moments like this. Bobak stayed calm and polite throughout the ordeal because he knew what this pack of hyenas was planning.
After 30 minutes of kicks and insults, Bobak was thrown into a cell in the records area. A few minutes later, CO Casha came into the cell and said to Bobak, “If you don’t do anything in retaliation, I will remove the handcuffs.” Bobak said to the CO that he did not do anything at all from the beginning. Acknowledging this, the CO removed the cuffs. A few minutes later all the detainees were loaded into the transport vehicle — more commonly known as the “meat wagon” — that was going to take them to North Fraser Pretrial Centre (NFPC) where they would sit and wait approximately two hours for another meat wagon to transport them to Downtown Vancouver and immigration court. After a lengthy ride, the detainees ended up in the records area of NFPC, mixed in with criminal inmates. The cells in NFPC are cold and the staff there are extremely rude and hostile, especially towards immigrants.
After a couple of hours, the staff operating the meat wagon started loading the detainees for transport again, but they never took detainee JL who was anxious to get to court. Bobak heard the staff saying JL did not have court that day and he was brought over by mistake. JL raised havoc and the staff at NFPC were heard laughing at him and saying they would keep him in the records cell until the end of the day, and then they would send him back to FRCC. LH, AS, and Bobak were loaded into the vehicle and driven downtown.
The ride in these vehicles amounts to cruel and unfair punishment. Imagine being transported as a ‘product’ in the back of a semi truck; you are handcuffed and shackled by your feet and placed on a metal bench with no cushioning. The suspension in these vehicles was never designed to have people in the back. Every little bump in the road is amplified and the detainees feel the full impact of it. There are no seat belts and sometimes detainees are placed in a position which does not face the direction of travel. Sometimes the bench is perpendicular to the road and the drivers of these vehicles never consider the result of their irrational and reckless driving on the detainees in the back. In fact, some of them enjoy slamming on the brakes and sending the detainees flying and smashing into the metal dividers of the vehicle’s compartments. After reaching downtown, detainees are unloaded into the holding cells of the immigration facilities. These holding cells are like fish tanks; a big window faces the hallway so that everyone walking by stares at the detainees as if they were some exotic species from places unknown.
Once there, Bobak asked for a coffee to awaken his senses after this torturous journey and the staff just laughed and ignored him. Detainee AS was taken to court for a 30-day detention review and returned ten minutes later. He told Bobak that he was detained for another 30 days because CBSA was still trying to confirm his identity. In fact, AS was the only detainee in the group that had court that day. Bobak was stuck in the holding cell until 2:30 p.m. when he was called to an interview room and a CBSA officer asked him one question: “When will your ID card arrive from Iran?” Bobak responded, “It was sent a few days ago and should arrive within a week.” Bobak was placed back into the holding cell and LH was called out of the cell. He returned two minutes later and told Bobak that he was brought over just because he had forgotten to sign an application. He signed it and was placed back into the cell, complaining to Bobak that this was the third time he got shipped downtown to complete something that could have been done with a phone call or by fax in a matter of minutes.
LH, AS, and Bobak spent the rest of the working day in the immigration fish tank. At 5:00 p.m., they were placed in a transport wagon to take the same treacherous journey back to NFPC. There, they found JL still waiting and in a very foul mood. They had to sit and wait in the cold records cell of NFPC for two additional hours while exhausted from their ordeal. At 8:00 p.m. they were loaded into another wagon and transported back to FRCC, arriving at 9:00 p.m. and returning straight to their cells to hit the sack. Bobak was woken up a few minutes into his sleep by management staff of FRCC who gave him a warning that he should cooperate with FRCC staff next time or he would be charged. They somehow overlooked the fact that Bobak did not have court that day — there was no order to take him to court — and the staff at FRCC beat and abused him that morning. The only reason he was dragged downtown was to answer a single question which could have been done over the phone. CBSA staff knew that. They also know that the routine of dragging people downtown is cruel, and they intentionally do so and take joy in the hardship it causes. These practices are unethical and wasteful. They cost the taxpayers millions of dollars, but with no meaningful oversight of CBSA and immigration, this abyss will not be bridged.
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