Canada Must Live Up to Its International Obligations and Reputation

The Ultra Vires Editorial Board in concert with the IHRP


Ultra Vires strongly endorses No Life for a Child: A Roadmap to End Immigration Detention of Children and Family Separation. This report was released by the University of Toronto’s International Human Rights Program (IHRP) on September 22 and addresses Canada’s immigration detention practices. These practices have led to the detention of hundreds of children over the last few years, and the separation of many families. We stand in solidarity with the IHRP as they call for Canada to live up to its international obligations, and that authorities take into account the best interests of the child as a primary consideration in all state actions concerning children.

Immigration Holding Centres resemble medium-security prisons, and children’s privacy and liberty are severely restricted. They lack access to adequate education and nutrition, and insufficient recreational opportunities engender social isolation. Both detention and family separation have serious and lasting mental health consequences for children and their families. This cannot be remedied simply by improving the conditions of detention, as these consequences are a by-product of the fact of detention and family separation itself. The best interest of the child should be given primary consideration in all governmental action involving children. In this respect, Canada is failing to meet its international legal obligations and the international community has repeatedly criticized Canada for its detention practices.

Viable alternatives to child detention and family separation exist. Community-based, non-custodial alternatives are not only significantly more humane but also significantly more cost effective than detention. No Life for a Child provides eleven recommendations, which complement and build upon the recommendations made in the 2015 report We Have No Rights. This most recent report states that children and families should be released from detention outright, or be given access to community-based alternatives to detention such as reporting obligations, financial deposits, or electronic monitoring if unconditional release is not possible. The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act grants authorities wide discretionary powers to implement the goals of these recommendations immediately, before passing the necessary legislation.

Forty-six of Canada’s leading medical, legal and human rights organizations, including the IHRP, have signed on to a statement calling on the Canadian government to urgently stop its harmful practice of detaining children and separating families for immigration purposes.

The Canadian government is a leader not only for how human rights will be implemented in Canada but a leader in human rights all around the world.We call for the government to live up to Canada’s reputation, and take the steps necessary to provide meaningful protection for children.

For more detail, access the full version of No Life for a Child report on the IHRP’s website, or look for the IHRP’s article on