OTTAWA — The Canada Border Services Agency will soon force all border-security officers working with detained migrants to wear defensive gear, drawing widespread concern over a perceived “criminalization” of asylum-seekers.

The mandatory equipment includes batons, pepper spray and bulletproof vests.

The national policy was adopted internally last year after CBSA began moving what it deems “higher-risk immigration detainees” from provincial jails, where they were being held for security purposes, into one of the agency’s three immigration holding centres.

Information obtained under access-to-information law shows the agency decided all officers working in these centres must be outfitted in protective and defensive equipment to ensure a common operational approach.

But the changes have sparked concern this will create an environment in immigration detention centres akin to jail conditions and create a perception that all detained migrants in Canada are “criminals” worthy of punishment.

A group of doctors, lawyers, legal scholars and human-rights organizations have called on Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to cancel the policy — calls they say have been ignored.

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press

The Canadian Press