Ontario, July 14, 2016 1pm – 68 doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals released an open letter to Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale on Thursday supporting the demands of immigration detainees on hunger strike. Over 50 immigration detainees are on day four of a hunger strike at two maximum security jails in Ontario – the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay and the Toronto East Detention Centre in Scarborough. The detainees demand an end to indefinite immigration detention and a meeting with Minister Goodale.
Emergency Physician Dr. Tarek Loubani has been involved with the detainees’ struggle since his own detention without charge and subsequent hunger strike in Egypt in 2013. “Over 150,000 people rallied behind me when I was detained in Egypt without trial or charge. The Canadian government advocated on my behalf. It is disappointing and hypocritical that Canada continues its own archaic practice of indefinitely imprisoning migrants. I stand in solidarity with the detainees and call for Minister Goodale to meet with them to hear their grievances and to end maximum security indefinite immigration detention.”
“The health impacts of the hunger strike could be grave. Many detainees have chronic illnesses which could be worsened by refusing food” adds Family Physician Dr Michelle Fraser. “This is a healthcare crisis, but also a political crisis. Minister Goodale oversees the Canadian Border Services Agency and Correctional Services Canada and he has the power and the responsibility to meet with the detainees and to end indefinite immigration detention.”
The healthcare providers note that three detainees have died in detention in 2016, bringing the number of deaths while in immigration detention to at least fifteen since 2000.
Psychiatrist Dr. Michaela Beder draws attention to the impact of indefinite detention on the mental health of detainees. “We see elevated levels of mental illness among immigration detainees, including depression, PTSD and suicidality. Those believed to be suicidal or seriously mentally ill are often transferred from detention facilities to jail, where they may even be kept in solitary confinement; this worsens their mental illness and can be further traumatizing.”
This letter follows an open letter by healthcare providers in May, addressed to former Ontario Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Yasir Naqvi.