Why immigration detainee who died in custody had ‘no end date’ on stay in jail

The Star

Nicholas Keung  The Star Wed., Feb. 1, 2023

There was no timeline to get Abdurahman Ibrahim Hassan out of jail and out of this country.

The immigration detainee was being held at the provincial jail in Lindsay, Ont., as he awaited deportation from Canada.

He’d been there since losing a final court appeal in November 2013.

And he was still there, more than a year and a half later, when a medical episode began the saga that would lead to his death.

On Tuesday, a senior Canada Border Services Agency official explained to the inquest into Hassan’s death why the man was still in Canada at the time.

Hassan had arrived in this country in 1992 and was granted asylum a year later. But he had been flagged for removal as far back as 2005 due to what was called his serious criminality. He exhausted all avenues of appeal, over the years, culminating with the fight to reverse a “danger opinion” against him.

“In order to return or deport someone to a foreign country, we need that country’s approval to be able to effect that removal,” CBSA director general Carl Desmarais testified. “We also need to have the presence of a travel documents. On the case of Mr. Hassan, we had secured both.

“There’s very few airlines that actually fly directly into Somalia. There’s one particular airline that had a special requirement to obtain a declaration from a client to show that the client was actually collaborating with the removal effort. That was an outstanding requirement for us.”

Instead, Hassan remained at the Lindsay jail, often in segregation due to his serious mental health illnesses, with “no end date” to his release or deportation.

On June 3, 2015, the 39-year-old man was taken to a Peterborough hospital for seizures. He died eight days later after a struggle in his hospital room under the guard of two paid-duty police officers.

Part of the scope of the inquest is to examine how the federal detainee ended up in a provincial facility and the different roles various government bodies played in his detention.

According to CBSA, Hassan’s criminal convictions dated back to 1999 for assault and escalated through the years to robbery, theft and threatening death. Twice, in 2005 and 2008, he was flagged for being inadmissible in Canada.

In 2009, border officials requested then-immigration minister Jason Kenney issue an opinion to declare Hassan a danger to the public. In 2013, the minister’s delegate concluded that Hassan’s threat to Canadians outweighed the risks he might face if returned to war-torn Somalia.

Desmarais said federal-provincial detention agreements allow CBSA to hold high-risk immigration detainees at provincial jails as in Hassan’s case in Ontario. While there is no statutory limit to the length of detention, he said detainees undergo regular reviews by an independent tribunal to justify continued detention.

Federal immigration holding centres don’t have the capacity to handle inmates with complex mental health issues, he added.

Border officials would have limited interactions with an immigration detainee in a provincial jail other than at detention reviews or during attempts to get the person to sign documents to facilitate removals, Desmarais said.

“The management of the detainee on a day-to-day basis is left to the province for a variety of different operational reasons,” he explained.

Desmarais said detention is a last resort as community-assisted bail programs and technology such as ankle bracelets are available to mitigate potential risk upon someone’s release. Since 2017, CBSA officers have been using the National Risk Assessment for Detention to assess the best option for each case.

But Desmarais maintained that immigration detainees are held for “program integrity and public safety” reasons.

“It is to assist for removal. It is not to facilitate rehabilitation or reintegration to society.”

Under cross-examination, Desmarais said four provinces — British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and Nova Scotia — have already notified the federal government of their plan to end their immigration detention arrangements with CBSA out of human rights concerns.

“What’s the government going to do?” asked coroner’s counsel Jai Dhar.

“I can tell you that it’s currently under active negotiations with those particular provinces. I think, in the interests of public safety, it’s important for us to ensure we have a proper and smooth transition,” Desmarais replied without revealing details of a contingency plan.

The inquest resumes Thursday.