Canada Keeps Arresting Pro-Refugee Campaigners (While Detaining More Refugees Than Ever)

On September 3rd, just one day after the tragic image of little Aylan went viral around the world, activist Sean Devlin was arrested at Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s election campaign event in British Colombia. He was wearing a shirt that said ‘Aylan should be here’, in reference to the drowned Syrian toddler who sparked a fierce debate about the immigration policies of developed countries.

Canada has seen a 30% decrease in refugee acceptances since 2006 under Stephen Harper’s government. “They’re spending tax dollars on second homes for Senators while telling families fleeing war that we can’t afford to welcome them”, Devlin said after being released. “These policies are inhumane and directly force families into life threatening situations.”

Sean Devlin was part of a team that helped produce videos for – a new multimedia project that sheds light on the drastically changed landscape for immigrants under the Harper government. He is also associated with Canadian movement ‘Shit Harper Did’ or SHD, which aims to outline the huge number of social and environmental abuses by the Canadian President.


On the 14th of this month, another protester called Lucy Burgess was thrown out of a campaign event for the same ‘crime’: wearing a T-shirt in support of refugee rights.

The Canadian government jailed 87,317 migrants between 2006 and 2014. These shocking statistics include up to 807 children per year. Migrants are the only population in Canada who can be jailed on administrative grounds without ever being charged with a specific criminal offense. Many migrants face indefinite detention, with no trial and no charges, and some migrants now face mandatory detention. In 2013 alone, migrant detainees spent a collective total of 503 years behind bars.

In 2014, the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Working Group on Arbitrary Detention strongly chastised the Canadian immigration detention system. The University of Toronto’s International Human Rights Program released a study in 2015 finding that Canada’s rising detention of non-criminal foreigners in maximum-security prisons amounts to arbitrary, cruel and inhumane treatment that violates international obligations.


Immigration detention is one of the fastest growing forms of incarceration in Canada. Over the past 10 years, the government has detained an average of 11,000 migrants per year, including up to 807 children detained each year. In some cases, young Canadian children such as Alpha Anawa have been born in Canada Border Services Agency custody, spending their entire lives behind bars.

Learn more by watching the shocking video, and please consider sharing this article if you feel strongly about it. Those of you in Canada can join in the month of actions in support of refugee rights by clicking here.

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