Migrant detainee goes on hunger strike in Laval holding centre, claiming poor treatment amid outbreak
LAVAL -- Community groups are calling for the release of migrants detained at the Immigration Holding Centre in Laval, which they say is in the midst of an outbreak of COVID-19.
Conditions now at the centre have pushed one detainee to initiate an indefinite hunger strike, he said.
“I believe that our lives are at risk because we do not have any way of protecting ourselves,” reads a letter from the striking detainee, writing under the fake name of Marlon.
The letter was released to media on Tuesday by Solidarity Across Borders (SAB), an advocacy group that says staff at the Laval centre are not doing enough to protect detainees from COVID-19.
“I am doing this as a form of protest because my fundamental rights, such as my right to health, are being violated,” says the letter.
Detainees at the Laval detention centre are either awaiting deportation, are undocumented, or have entered Canada illegally. Community groups call that detention cruel and dangerous during a pandemic.
"Marlon" has been detained in the Laval centre since November, according to advocates. He has reportedly been on a hunger strike since Feb. 15, consuming only water since then.
According to an audio interview presented by SAB, Marlon claimed he approached centre staff when he came down with symptoms of COVID-19.
“I had a high fever, I was coughing a lot, coughing up blood. I experienced difficulty while breathing through the mask,” he said.
“When I went to alert the doctor, the staff took my temperature, gave me Tylenol, and said they didn't consider my condition to be serious.”
Last week, he received his test result, which he said was positive.
According to SAB, the results came the day before he was set to be released, but now he's in isolation.
He is reportedly one of four positive cases in the centre. But all detainees, of whom there are estimated to be about 12 to 15 right now, were placed in isolation, according to SAB.
Border Services Canada did not respond to CTV’s request for comment.
At a Tuesday press conference, community advocates presented testimony from people in detention and from one who was detained during the first wave of the pandemic in the spring.
Those people reported tiny, poorly maintained rooms, dust-filled ventilation ducts, and not being allowed to see their loved ones or wash their clothes.
It’s not the first time detainees have initiated hunger strikes at the Laval centre.
In March 2020, about 30 then-detainees went on strike, demanding release from detention as the coronavirus strengthened its hold on Quebec.
“Detention is completely unnecessary at the best of times, but to force people into this facility during the pandemic is cruel and dangerous,” said Solidarity Across Borders member Tanya Rowell Katzemba.
-- WIth files from The Canadian Press