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Human-rights groups are expressing outrage at government plans to lock up immigrants who have not been convicted of a crime in federal prisons.

Tuesday’s federal budget proposes changes to the law to allow people facing deportation deemed to be high risk – including posing a potential flight risk or a threat to public safety – to be incarcerated in federal prison.

The move follows the decision by provinces to end immigration-detention agreements with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) to house immigrants in their jails this year.

Julia Sande, a lawyer at Amnesty International, said incarcerating immigrants in prison flouts international human-rights law, and she was pleased provinces were ending the practice.

But she said Amnesty is “outraged that the federal government is doubling down on its harmful rights-abusing system.”

Ms. Sande said it is unethical to detain migrants who are not serving sentences for crimes. She said migrants who had been incarcerated in provincial jails have been exposed to violent and tense situations.

She said that unlike people sentenced for crimes, immigrants could be held indefinitely and one migrant was held in a prison for 11 years.

The budget proposes to introduce amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to enable the use of federal correctional facilities for high-risk immigration detention. The budget also allocates $325-million to upgrade existing federal immigration detention centres housing high-risk migrants.

Immigrants facing removal can be detained in an immigration holding facility if a Canada Border Services agent classifies them as high risk.

The Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations set out reasons for detaining immigrants such as failed asylum seekers. They include criminal convictions for sex offences, violence, weapons or drug trafficking, failing to comply – such as not showing up to be deported or attending interviews – or having links with organized crime, human smuggling or trafficking.

Hanna Gros, of Human Rights Watch, said most immigrants were detained because they are deemed a flight risk.

She said incarcerating immigrants in federal prison is “completely outrageous.”

“It’s fundamentally punitive to incarcerate somebody. It’s devastating to people’s mental health and well-being,” she said.

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said it was wrong to treat migrants like criminals.

“It is disgraceful that the Liberals want to continue with such egregious human rights violations by changing the law to allow immigrants to be arbitrarily detained in federal jails. Instead of doubling down such punitive practices, the NDP is calling on the Liberals to adopt and invest in rights-respecting, community-based alternatives to detention,” she said in a statement.

The NDP, as part of its confidence-and-supply agreement to prop up the Liberal government, has agreed to support the budget bill. In return for NDP support, the government agreed to a number of policy changes including introducing free dental care for uninsured Canadians with a household income below $90,000.

A 2021 report by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International found that people in immigration detention in Canada have been handcuffed and shackled, and held in solitary confinement. It found Black men tend to be confined in more restrictive conditions and for longer periods than other detainees.

Syed Hussan, executive director of Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, said the decision to detain is based on an “arbitrary” assessment by a CBSA officer of whether someone is high risk.

“There is no official mechanism, no forms to be completed, no evidence required and no appeals possible in a person being deemed a ‘high-risk detainee’; arbitrary and ad-hoc decisions that result in indefinite imprisonment without charges or trial go against the very basic principles of fairness, justice and due process,” he said in a statement.

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