Sun. Apr 21st, 2024

« Traité ; like an animal » in prison awaiting deportation from Canada

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One immigrant spent a year and a half in Her Majesty's Penitentiary, a provincial prison in St. John's, Newfoundland, awaiting removal to the Democratic Republic of Congo. (Archive photo)

  • Patrick Butler (View profile)Patrick Butler

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In Newfoundland, a man remained at Her Majesty's Penitentiary in Saint John for about a year and a half after serving his sentence, waiting for federal authorities to handle his immigration case.

In this dilapidated prison where conditions of detention are known to be appalling – rodent infestations, lack of ventilation, extreme heat – Doudou Mpumudjie Kikewa was allegedly treated like an animal , according to transcripts of hearings from the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB).

During his incarceration, the citizen of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) allegedly suffered shocking and racist treatment. He was allegedly deprived of water and forced to drink from the toilet bowl, according to IRB transcripts. He was also allegedly placed in solitary confinement at the prison, where there were no services in French for the unilingual French-speaking inmate.

In August 2019, the 34-year-old was convicted of identity theft, fraud and court order violations.

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Mr. Kikewa should have stayed in prison for about a year, but he ended up receiving a double sentence. A permanent resident since 2006, the IRB decided to expel him from the country in June 2020. While awaiting this removal, he remained in preventive detention because he presented a flight risk and represented a danger to the public, according to the court.

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A correctional officer in Her Majesty's Penitentiary, Newfoundland and Labrador, in May 2017.

The return of Mr. Kikewa to the DRC, a country where he had not set foot since his adolescence, was nevertheless postponed several times, in particular because he refused to speak to agents of the Canada Border Services Agency (ASFC) and to take a COVID-19 screening test, a measure required by the Congolese authorities.

While the stay at the Penitentiary of His Majesty continued, Mr. Kikewa's mental health deteriorated, according to IRB documents.

He had been placed in solitary confinement and was under surveillance because he presented a suicide risk; he was seen hitting his head against the wall several times, we read in a Federal Court judgment in January 2022.

In a declaration submitted to the IRB in February 2021, the assistant superintendent of the penitentiary noted that no services in French were available for the inmate. In addition to not being able to benefit from the support of his family, it indicates that Mr. Kikewa had no financial means to buy hygiene products and food and had no one to interact and discuss with .

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Her Majesty Penitentiary is the oldest prison facility in the country.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, there are no federal detention centers for migrants.

Mr. Kikewa requested several times to be transferred to a detention center in Quebec, a French-speaking province where members of his family live. The request was granted, but the transfer was delayed a few times.

Mr. Kikewa cannot be transferred to a commercial plane due to security concerns, and it must be done by a private plane with the help of RCMP, Commissioner Dianne Tordorf noted at an IRB hearing on July 15, 2021.

A first transfer attempt a few months later failed. Commissioner Élise Leclerc-Gagné indicated during an IRB hearing on February 15, 2021, that Mr. Kikewa allegedly received threats from an agent who told him that he was going to make his life difficult before 'send to Montreal.

He was allegedly put on the ground and somewhat strangled for about thirty minutes and also kicked all over his body. In addition, an agent allegedly made racist comments during his transport, she said, noting that the transfer did not ultimately take place.

On March 3, 2022, 19 months after the start of his pretrial detention, Mr. Kikewa's transfer took place, but not without problems and violence.

What the court understood is that there were a lot of measures taken to secure Mr. [Kikewa], Commissioner Ethan Friedman said during a hearing on March 15, 2022.

Mr Kikewa explained how he had been tied up, that he […] wore a mask, he could not see, he was given an injection without his authorization, he had a lot of difficulty breathing, he was in his seat for 3 or 4 hours for the flight. At some point, he passed out, he continued.

According to Commissioner Friedman, a sedative was administered to the detainee, a measure taken to manage his stress and distress during the flight.

According to the council of the minister, the [Canada Border Services] Agency tried to control a situation which was difficult, adds Mr. Friedman.

Once he arrived at the Rivière-des-Prairies Detention Facility, Mr. Kikewa was kept in solitary confinement and was only allowed to take two showers between March 3 and 15, according to IRB transcripts .

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The Rivière-des-Prairies provincial detention facility, in Montreal.

He hasn't changed his clothes since he arrived. He has the same underwear, Commissioner Friedman said on March 31, 2022.

Radio-Canada was unable to contact Mr. Kikewa and his lawyer, Pierre-Olivier Marcoux, did not want to grant an interview without contacting his client. We have not been able to confirm whether Mr. Kikewa's dismissal took place.

Mr. Kikewa's treatment raises many questions on the fate of people detained for immigration reasons in Newfoundland and Labrador. Provincial Minister of Justice and Public Safety John Hogan said March 4 that immigration detention is not standard practice in Newfoundland and Labrador.

I think we are managing detention well at present, he continued, adding that to his knowledge, there are had only a handful of cases in recent years.

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John Hogan, Minister of Justice and Public Safety of Newfoundland and Labrador, in February 2022. (Photo archives)

CBSA data shows, however, that 28 people were kept in preventive detention in a prison in the province between 2019 and 2023 , most at Her Majesty's Penitentiary.

Detention is used as a measure of last resort, says CBSA spokesperson Karine Martel. About three-quarters of individuals detained in provincial correctional facilities are inadmissible for reasons of serious criminality, as Mr. Kikewa was.

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The provincial Department of Justice and Public Safety refutes the CBSA figures, saying only two people have been detained for immigration-related reasons alone in two years.

A ministry spokesperson says the province strongly advocated for Mr. Kikewa to be taken into custody by the CBSA once any action involving this inmate while in custody in Newfoundland and Labrador is a result of the risks he presents for himself, for the staff and/or for other prisoners, he continues.

Mr. Kikewa was convicted of assaulting a correctional officer while in custody in July 2020.

In early March, Radio-Canada reported that Terre- New and Labrador was the only Canadian province that did not plan to end the controversial practice of incarcerating migrants in its prisons.

The provincial government has since changed its mind.

On March 12, 2024, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador sent an official notice to the Canadian Border Security Agency informing it that it would stop accepting people detained solely under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act as of March 31 2025, says Eric Humber. The agency should receive this notice in the coming days.

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