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Open Letter on Ending Child and Family Detention in Canada and the USA

June 26, 2018.

The Honourable Ahmed D. Hussen
Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Re: Ending child detention in Canada and the United States

Dear Minister Hussen,

We are writing on behalf of social work educators across Canada who have been horrified in the past weeks about the separation of nearly 3000 children from their families when seeking asylum at the American border. We know there is no need to detail here the stories of devastated families and frightened children – all of us have seen the news accounts. The news that President Donald Trump signed an executive order to end the separation of children from their parents and, instead, to incarcerate families together, is little comfort.

As social work educators, we feel the need to speak out strongly to denounce the current situation and to prevent harm to other families. Not only is child detention counter to international law, as strongly denounced by the United Nations, but we know that the trauma induced by sudden family separation and incarceration can have grave life-long effects. It is of note that the American Academy of Pediatrics,1 the Canadian Pediatric Society,2 the American Medical Association,3 the Canadian Association of Social Workers[1], the National Association of Social Workers[2] and the Canadian Medical Association4 have all come out with strong statements condemning the separation of migrant children from their families. As educators of current and future helping professionals, it is important to add our voice.

And while we are shocked and outraged by the zero-tolerance policy in the United States, it is important to note that Canada also engages in the detention of migrant children and their families. Research is clear that this practice can have long-term mental health effects on those detained, including anxiety, depression and PTSD. Children have specifically been shown to demonstrate regression of developmental milestones, sleep disruption, anxiety and depression.

Since 2012, it is estimated that Canada has detained over 45,000 people in administrative immigration detention. And rates of immigration are expected to rise. Children are not exempt from this inhumane treatment; last year 162 children were detained in Canada and projections for 2018 are set to exceed last year’s numbers.

It is imperative to take action now, and we call on Canadian federal leaders to do so. We call on the Canadian government to take the following actions immediately:

  1. Call on the United States to end its practise of child and family detention

Keeping migrant families together in detention, still results in child detention and is contrary to international law. The psychological, physical and social effects of such detention are absolutely unacceptable.

  1. End child detention and family separation in Canada

Canada can no longer turn a blind eye to the fact that children and families are detained through our immigration system. There is no possible justification for this and the practice must end immediately.

  1. End the Safe Third Country Agreement

This agreement with the United States is premised on the idea that the United States is a safe country for refugees seeking asylum. Under the current “zero tolerance” policy, it is more evident than ever that this is not the case. Canada must end this agreement in order to respect its international obligations towards refugees.


Susan Cadell, President CASWE-ACFTS

cc.  The Right Honourable Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Honourable Ralph Goodale, Minister of Community Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Minister of Health


[1] https://www.casw-acts.ca/en/casw-cpa-open-letter-us-zero-tolerance-policy

[2] https://www.socialworkers.org/News/News-Releases/ID/1654/NASW-says-plan-to-separate-undocumented-immigrant-children-from-their-parents-is-malicious-and-unconscionable