Indefinite Detention is Un-Canadian

Canada is a nation that is renowned for promoting democracy and human rights at home and around the world. As Canadians, we hold tyranny and repression by the state profoundly repugnant to the tenets of our democracy. Therefore, in the past, it has been only under the most trying circumstances, such as war, that civil liberties and freedom have been suspended under the War Measures Act. Nonetheless, the three times the act has been enforced – during the First and Second World Wars, and during the October Crisis – the actions of the Canadian government befitted a tyrant. Perhaps most notably, during World War II, the government interned thousands of Japanese Canadians under the guise of national security. Indeed, Canada and its allies had declared war on Japan, but these loyal Canadians and their families were no different from any other Canadian, except that they happened to have been born Japanese. Although used long before World War II, the internment camp became a ___ of the war. Camps (internment, concentration, and refugee), as described by Giorgio Agamben, are places of exclusion in which the inhabitants experience the bare life, an existence characterized by having no political nor moral involvement or recognition with the outside community at large (Pavlich, p. 158). In recent years, internment camps have been replaced by refugee and illegal immigrant holding facilities – such as Kingston Immigration Holding Centre – as places where inhabitants experience the bare life.

As Mike Larsen and Justin Piché explain in their article, Exceptional State, Pragmatic Bureaucracy, and Indefinite Detention: The Case of the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre, these new holding facilities, or camps, are “the product of a series of decisions designed to functionally blur the spaces of the camp and the prison while maintaining their technical distinction.”(p. 205) While Agamben’s theorization of the camp is more akin to an internment or refugee camp, Larsen and Piché’s theorization of KIHC is more akin to a prison, where immigrants with security tickets over their heads, such as the “Secret Trial Five,” are held indefinitely.

Larsen and Piché are opposed to security certificates for their punitive nature. The government, under the direction of “the Minister of Public Safety and the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration,” (p. 206) can issue a security certificate for any non-citizen deemed “to be ‘inadmissible’ to Canada ‘on security grounds.’” (p. 207) Those who are issued a security certificate can be detained indefinitely. Surely, indefinite detention in Canada is wrong, whether for national security concerns or not. If someone, including a non-citizen, is detained, then they should have the right to be charged and brought to trial. But to hold someone without charge and punish them like a criminal when an offence has not been committed is against their human rights and is un-Canadian.

References:

– Pavlich, G. (2011). Law & Society Redefined. Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press.

– Larsen, M. and Justin Piché. Exceptional State, Pragmatic Bureaucracy, and Indefinite Detention: The Case of the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Indefinite Detention is Un-Canadian

  1. This is an interesting post.

    Can I ask what you mean by “Although used long before World War II, the internment camp became a ___ of the war”?

    Regarding the concept of camps (as used by Agamben), the key is to note that the camp is a space that is opened up when the state of exception becomes normalized.

    You note that “While Agamben’s theorization of the camp is more akin to an internment or refugee camp, Larsen and Piché’s theorization of KIHC is more akin to a prison, where immigrants with security tickets over their heads, such as the “Secret Trial Five,” are held indefinitely.”

    Close! Both Agamben’s camps and the KIHC can be understood as spaces of normalized exceptionality. They key distinction with the KIHC is the blurring of this zone and the space of the prison, through counter-law. We emphasize the importance of law (or counter-law) in the creation of states of exception – but also, and crucially, the importance of organizational authorities and capacities.