Jailed foreigners get right to day parole

All are facing deportation

Marina Jimenez National Post Thursday, November 18, 1999

Foreign prisoners facing deportation are now allowed to apply for day parole, after the Federal Court of Appeal ruled that it is unfair to automatically detain them until the expiry of their sentence.

Corrections Canada says many of the 1,200 prisoners who are immigrants, refugees or visitors to Canada are now expected to go before the Parole Board to be considered for day parole, unescorted temporary absences and work release programs.

“Now, like other Canadians, foreign inmates can apply for day parole,” said Jacques Belanger, spokesman for Corrections Canada, which introduced the new policy last month.

The change means that foreign inmates, all of whom face deportation orders, could end up on the streets. Under the Immigration Act, the government cannot deport them until their sentence is complete. Day parole is considered part of their sentence.

Immigration officials can argue before an adjudicator that the inmates are a flight risk or a danger to the public, but if they lose, the foreign inmates will be released on day parole.

About 8.5% of Canada’s 14,000 federal inmates are foreign, serving sentences for crimes including murder, fraud and assault.

The change in Corrections Canada’s policy stems from a case argued by David Matas, an immigration lawyer based in Winnipeg. His client, Arshad Mahmood Chaudhry, was sentenced to 14 years in prison for a 1994 drug trafficking conviction. Under the old policy, he was denied the chance to even apply for day parole — something Canadian inmates are entitled to do.

First-time offenders who have committed non-violent crimes can apply after serving one-sixth of their sentence, while other inmates can apply after serving one-third.

“It was like saying to immigrants that simply because you have no status in Canada, you’re being treated differently,” said Mr. Matas.

He applied for judicial review and last spring, Federal Court Justice John Evans ruled in his favour, saying that denying jailed immigrants the chance to apply for day parole was discriminatory. The policy effectively forced immigrants to serve their sentence under “more restrictive conditions than those applicable to the general inmate population,” said Judge Evans.

Immigration officials appealed the judgment, and lost in a September, 1999, ruling from the Federal Court of Appeal. Mr. Matas says the victory is significant because of the legal principles at stake.

“The judgment is a shot across the bow that the courts are hostile to prolonged arbitrary government detention without any possibility of review,” he said.

Chaudhry has since been returned to Pakistan, but Mr. Matas says the ruling will affect many other immigrants, refugees and non-Canadians in the federal prison system.