Positive practices but serious concerns regarding detention of marginalized groups persist, say UN experts: Canada

OHCHR

UN experts said today Canada has positive systems in place to avoid arbitrary detention. However, serious concerns remain, particularly in relation to Indigenous Peoples, groups facing racial discrimination and other groups at risk.

“Despite efforts to address their overrepresentation in the criminal justice system, these groups continue to be detained at alarming rates,” said the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in a statement concluding a 12-day visit to Canada.

The Working Group welcomed developments such as the significant decrease in youth detention and the standard presentation of arrestees before judicial officers within 24 hours of arrest. Arrests are generally conducted lawfully, with detainees informed of their rights. But the bail system has inefficiencies, including onerous bail conditions, which can excessively affect marginalized groups.

“Bail conditions must be tailored more closely to individual circumstances, and unnecessary criminalization of bail breaches should be avoided,” the experts said.

The Working Group heard that disproportionately high rates of Indigenous Peoples in criminal justice detention are linked to systemic racism. They were told of over-policing, over-prosecution, and over-incarceration. The Working Group acknowledges Governmental initiatives to address this situation, but notes that systemic factors with roots in colonialism continue to exacerbate Indigenous Peoples’ overrepresentation in a cycle of incarceration and socio-economic marginalization.

The experts noted that these factors also impact people of African descent, who are overrepresented in detention. They called on the Government of Canada to redouble its efforts to tackle all forms of discrimination.

Equally, the Group emphasized the need for comprehensive detainee rehabilitation, particularly for marginalized communities, to reduce recidivism. The experts underlined that “effective support in housing, healthcare, education, and employment is crucial for successful reintegration”.

The experts noted that, although solitary confinement has been formally ended, regimes such as structured intervention units continue to see detainees deprived of sufficient meaningful human interaction and in some cases kept locked alone in their cells for multiple days on end. Moreover, many detainees suffer from serious psychosocial disabilities, which often contribute to, and are exacerbated by, their incarceration. In some cases, treatment is ineffective in correctional facilities. Substance abuse problems also features heavily among the incarcerated population and treatment options are variable and often inadequate.

The plight of detained migrants, who have not been charged or convicted of any crime, is seriously concerning, the experts said. Independent oversight of the Canada Border Services Agency, which manages migration detention, is lacking and the absence of any maximum term of migration detention also heightens the risk of arbitrary detention. Many migrants are deprived of liberty for months and in some cases years. While the experts welcomed the ending of migration detention in provincial jails, they were alarmed by reports of plans to use federal correctional facilities to imprison persons detained purely on the basis of their migration status.

The Working Group delegation which included members Matthew Gillett, Ganna Yudkivska and Priya Gopalan visited Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia, and Quebec. They met with federal and provincial authorities, members of parliament, lawyers, civil society representatives and other stakeholders. The delegation visited 17 places of deprivation of liberty and interviewed around 103 people deprived of their liberty.

A final report on the visit will be presented to the Human Rights Council in September 2025.

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