Understanding Immigration Detention in Canada

Canada immigration law allows federal authorities to detain non-citizens for one or more reasons that are mentioned in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. CBSA is responsible for immigration detention.

Only a small percentage of refugee claimants are detained. Most refugee claimants live freely in the community for their entire refugee claim process.

In most cases, detention could happen at the beginning of the refugee claim process. Most refugee claimants who are detained are later released from detention.

If you are detained, CBSA must inform you of the reasons for detention.

The reasons for immigration detention in Canada

There are different reasons that you could be detained in Canada. It is important to be aware of these reasons, so you can avoid them. These reasons include:

Flight risk

Flight means that authorities believe you will not present yourself when required. This can happen if you did not present yourself to immigration authorities in the past, in Canada or in another country. There may be other reasons why authorities think you will not appear. 

If you are detained for flight risk, you may be able to present an Alternative to Detention (ATD). This could include the condition to report regularly to CBSA, a specific place of residence, or a cash bond provided by a third person. You may also present an ATD if you are detained for one of the other reasons listed below.

Identity

You can be detained for identity reasons if a CBSA officer is not convinced you are who you say you are. This can happen if you do not have documents to prove your identity. It can also happen if a CBSA officer suspects that documents may be fraudulent or does not believe information you provide about yourself and how you travelled to Canada. 

If you are detained for identity reasons, you will have to provide evidence to confirm your identity. CBSA may ask for documents that prove your identity. Sometimes they investigate social media, visa applications or information from other countries in order to confirm your identity.

Danger to the public

CBSA can detain you if they believe you pose a danger to the public in Canada.

Security

If CBSA believes or suspects any criminality or other security concerns, they can detain you while they investigate to gather more information. If CBSA finds evidence of serious criminality or other security concerns, they may ask the IRB-ID to find you inadmissible to Canada. If you are found inadmissible for serious criminality or other security concerns, you will not be eligible to make a refugee claim. It is important to seek legal advice.

When you can be detained in Canada

You could be detained at a legal border crossing, between legal border crossings, at an airport, a seaport or within Canada. There are three situations when you can be detained in the immigration process:

  • When you are trying to enter Canada
  • After you are in Canada
  • During or after an immigration inquiry while you are in Canada.

Where you can be held for detention in Canada

If you are arrested by a CBSA officer, the officer will decide at which location you will be held for detention. 

CBSA operates three detention centres in Canada, called Immigration Holding Centres:

  • Toronto, Ontario
  • Laval, Quebec (close to Montreal)
  • Surrey, British Columbia (close to Vancouver).

CBSA can also detain people for immigration reasons in a provincial or territorial jail. 

Where you are held for detention is based on multiple factors including the existence of an immigration holding centre in the region, available space, and the level of risk you pose.

Detention conditions depend on the location of detention. Conditions are different depending on whether you are in an Immigration Holding Centre or in a provincial jail.

In some cases, it may be possible to ask CBSA to change your location. If you are in detention there is a CBSA officer called a Detention Liaison Officer or an Inland Enforcement Officer who you can contact if you have any questions or concerns about detention conditions.

How long you can be detained in Canada

The length of time in detention depends on the reasons for detention. For example, the IRB-ID may agree to your release if there are conditions that address the reasons for detention, or based on the best interest of children under 18 affected by your detention.

In some cases, you may need to provide an ATD.