“And that wasn’t the only time he was in segregation,” said Jared Will, lawyer for Kashif Ali, an immigration detainee who is arguing in Ontario Superior Court that his detention is unlawful.
Ali, who was recently profiled as part of a Star investigation into immigration detention, testified Wednesday that he has been beaten by guards and fellow inmates, strip searched on a routine basis, endured almost daily lockdowns and suffered the psychological strain of segregation. While in segregation he smeared feces on the walls and himself, he said.
“I’m not well at all.” His daughter, seeing her father in the courtroom in an orange prison jumper and handcuffs, sobbed.
Ali’s lawyers made their case to Justice Ian Nordheimer that his detention is both arbitrary and indefinite, violating the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and fundamental principles of justice.
“Not only has it been seven years, it has been seven years of indefinite detention,” Will said.
The length and indeterminate nature of Ali’s detention, combined with the harsh conditions, mean continuing it any further would be “cruel and unusual,” Will said.
Canada can jail immigrants ruled inadmissible for an indefinite length of time if they have been deemed a danger to the public or unlikely to appear for their deportation. The average length of detention last year was just 23 days, but many cases drag on for months or years.
Ali, who has a long criminal record of mostly drug offences, says he was born in Ghana to a Ghanaian father and Nigerian mother. But he doesn’t have any documents to prove his identity or citizenship so neither country will take him back.
He used a fraudulent ID to enter Canada in 1986 and has lived here ever since. He is the father to a 26-year-old Canadian daughter and two other children with whom he does not have a relationship.
Canada has been trying to deport Ali for more than 20 years and nearly succeeded in 1996 when he provided a fake Ghanaian birth certificate so he could be released from a previous stint in immigration detention. But when Ghanaian authorities discovered the false document they detained him for 10 months before sending him back to Canada, where he was detained again.
Ali, whose longest criminal sentence was eight months for a break-and-enter in 1992, attributes his criminal lifestyle to a cocaine addiction. He served his last criminal sentence in 2009 and has now spent more than twice as long in immigration detention than all of his criminal sentences combined.
The government has said they are still “firmly committed” to deporting Ali, despite their lack of success.
They accuse Ali of not co-operating with his removal, but Ali insists he has given them all the information he has and would happily be deported anywhere if it means he can get out of jail.
Asked in court if he was opposed to his deportation on Wednesday, Ali replied: “Hell no.”
Lawyer Will called the government’s position “fundamentally illogical,” pointing to the various ways Ali has in fact co-operated with immigration authorities and his willingness to be deported.
“The evidence shows that from the very first detention order in 2010 to the present, there has never been a reasonable prospect for removal for Mr. Ali and there is no reasonable prospect of removal today,” Will said.
Will described the government’s efforts as “wheel spinning,” suggesting they, too, know Ali’s deportation is all but impossible, and yet they are unwilling to concede.
“Neither country is going to accept that he’s a citizen and there’s nothing that he can produce that’s going to satisfy either of those two countries,”
Ali’s daughter, Sakina Millington, cried as her father entered the court in handcuffs and wearing prison-issue orange jumpsuit. Millington, who works as a nurse in Pickering, said it was difficult to listen to her father describe his life behind bars.
“He is being treated like he’s not even a citizen of the world, like he’s not even human,” she said outside court. “He’s being treated like garbage.”
In addition to representing Ali individually, Will is also in the midst of a Federal Court challenge arguing that Canada’s entire immigration detention regime is unconstitutional.
The Liberal government, meanwhile, recently announced its general intention to make changes to immigration detention that would reduce the length of detention and limit the use of jails.
The government’s lawyers will make their submissions on Thursday.
Author: Brendan Kennedy