KIHC Vs. The Camp

Although there are many similarities that could be tossed around between the Kingston Immigration Holding Center and Agamben’s “camp” there are also some differences. For starters, and quite possibly the largest difference in my opinion, is the fact that the Kingston Immigration Holding Center was only meant to house 6 “inmates” whereas the “camp”, well when put into practice I believe some of the camps used by Nazi Germany housed thousands (I know for sure that 60,000 prisoners along with 13,000 unburied corpses were found at Bergen-Belson alone by the British 11th Armoured Division). I also felt that the camp was designed to make sure that the prisoners knew that there was no way to escape and thus wasn’t a primary concern of the guards whereas the KIHC was much more of a “one building with six rooms” sort of set up so it just gave off the appearance of being a modified version of solitary confinement. Another stimulating difference was the fact that Agamben’s Camp was put to use by the German’s before and during World War 2 and of the 20,000 or so camps that were utilized, they were all on previously (or for the most part) unused terrain whereas the KIHC was basically put in a small corner on the borders of the land being used by the Millhaven institution in Ontario. The KIHC also was designed to be a place that would house 6 individuals who were in essence, dangers to the World, or at the very least the Country, whereas the camp is simply a place that takes away your freedom, your rights, and your identity and leaves you in a state of bare life, where you simply succumb to the rules and regulations (and anything else they just happen to throw at you) without a fight because they’ve removed your status as a person, and thus can more or less do whatever they want to you. In other words, when you enter a state of “bare life”, you’ve become a disposable thing as opposed to a person who has a family who’ll miss them, and thus why you couldn’t be murdered in a camp, because to commit murder is to kill a person and when you’re in a state of bare life, basically, you stop being a person and thus are (as stated above), disposable. Perhaps in another light, to enter “the camp” is to enter a state of exception whereas those who “entered” KIHC were still people, still human beings, but just criminals of the highest danger who needed to be housed in a place away from all others.

One of the key differences between the two is that Agamben’s camp is almost a direct picture of (as I’ve mainly discussed) a concentration, work or “unwanted” camp whereas Larsen and Piché’s article in regards to the KIHC defines it as basically a prison where inmates can be held indefinitely until something better to do with them can be thought up.

The nature of Larsen and Piché’s normative argument against the Kingston Immigration Holding Center and more specifically security certificates is due to their punitive nature. With the use of a security certificate, Canada could in essence turn its back on someone who doesn’t have Canadian citizenship and can thus hold them until their expulsion from the country is decided: “The government, under the direction of the Minister of Public Safety and the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration (206) can issue a security certificate for any non-citizen deemed to be inadmissible to Canada on security grounds” (207). Security certificates almost seem to grant the government the ability to put someone into a state of “bare-life” until they can be sent home to be “dealt with” which is something that I believe cannot be done (i.e., a person cannot be forced to go “home” if by doing so that all but guarantees that person torture or death). It’s like how when the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan started, citizens were told that they would receive a cash reward if they turned in anyone affiliated with terror groups/cells, which lead to people getting “caught” simply because they’d be in an area within the war at some point in time, regardless of whether it had been recent or not. It’s like saying “you spent a couple of days in Baghdad 10 years before this all started…you must be a terrorist.” It’s a simple and clear abuse of power, almost as if to say that sovereign power is allowed to reign supreme because at least that way the government, or in this case the sovereign, is seen to be doing something. Fifteen arrests for suspected terrorists/terror cells looks a lot better than none, regardless of whether or not those fifteen people are completely innocent. Let’s be honest, as a citizen of a nation at war, even I like seeing that people who are suspected are getting caught, but as a human being I myself become enraged when I find out that those people are actually, or at least believed to be, completely innocent and yet are still held just because. Basically, if you’re going to charge me with having done something, charge me, but if you have nothing on me except the fact that I once went on vacation, let me go now and I just might be nice and go peacefully. Otherwise all you’re doing in infringing and ignoring my human rights which say I’m allowed to face my accuser and to know what I’m being charged with and to see some evidence to support all these claims and accusations. It’s not a case of this being “un-American” or “un-Canadian”, it simply is “inhumane”.

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

-Crim 3305 Handout – Larsen: Exceptional State, Pragmatic Bureaucracy



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One response to “KIHC Vs. The Camp

  1. Good post!

    You make an effective distinction between Agamben’s ‘camps’ and the KIHC in terms of scale. For Agamben, the Nazi camps represent a perfect illustration of what happens when the state of exception becomes normalized and operationalized as a paradigm of government. The KIHC, on the other hand, shares some of the theoretical features of the camp (as a site of normalized exceptionality), but it is localized, limited (theoretically) in scope, and closely integrated with ‘normal’ institutions.

    You note that “The KIHC also was designed to be a place that would house 6 individuals who were in essence, dangers to the World, or at the very least the Country”.

    At issue is the nature of the process through which persons can be deemed ‘dangers to the World’. What do you make of the fact that two of the ‘Secret Trial Five’ security certificate cases eventually collapsed?

    You note that “those who “entered” KIHC were still people, still human beings, but just criminals of the highest danger who needed to be housed in a place away from all others.”

    This is incorrect.

    The whole point of the certificate mechanism – as discussed in the article – is that it does not involve the use of criminal law. The persons detained at KIHC were not criminals. They were not accused of being criminals, nor were they charged with, tried for, or convicted of criminal offences. To use the term ‘criminal’ to describe a person held on a security certificate is to mistake the essence of the mechanism.

    One of the challenges associated with making sense of security certificates is the limitations imposed by our vocabulary. As criminologists, we rely on a lexicon associated with institutions of criminal justice – but these terms apply only superficially to security certificate cases. They are detainees, but not criminals, prisoners, but not inmates.