Munk One

Munk One students get creative during annual case competition event

How should Canadians welcome those who are most vulnerable, seeking protection from abuse, violence, and persecution? That was the question Munk One students were asked to consider at this year’s annual Munk One Case Competition.

The case competition is an annual event planned by former Munk One students for their first year Munk One peers. This year, eight second-year students, or ‘Munk Twos,’ organized the two-day session in November.

The Munk Twos chose asylum seeker detention as the case competition topic because it is a complex issue that has largely been ignored. “Canada’s immigration detention system represents some of the very worst of our society: xenophobia, racism, stigma about mental health, victim-blaming, and much more,” said Amalie Wilkinson, a second-year student and one of the case competition executives. “We knew pretty quickly that it was big, it was pressing, and it was our duty to make sure it wasn’t ignored.”

Over the course of 24 hours, twenty Munk One students, working in five groups of four, developed an intervention that sought to improve the mental health and well-being of asylum seekers housed at the detention centre at Laval, Que., one of three such facilities in the country.

Investigations conduction by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International found that asylum seekers to Canada often live in inhumane conditions while housed at these jail-like facilities. They can be held there for weeks or even months while their refugee claims are processed. The conditions within these holding centres can deteriorate the mental well-being of detainees or exacerbate the symptoms of those already living with a mental illness, according to research conducted by Human Rights Watch. The lack of sufficient services, particularly culturally-sensitive care, has led international organizations such as Amnesty International to label Canada’s detention system as “discriminatory” and “woefully inadequate”.

Before the competition began, participants listened to a moving keynote speech from Vino Landry, a law student at McGill University and a former research fellow with Human Rights Watch. A daughter of refugees herself, Landry reminded students of the human lives behind the numbers. She retold gut-wrenching stories she heard from asylum seekers living at these detention centres, such as that of a mother who was separated from her baby who needed to be breastfed.

Following Landry’s keynote speech, participants met with their groups in separate Zoom rooms and began work on their interventions. Throughout the first day and into the night, students conducted extensive research into the issue, identified specific problems they wished to tackle, and developed impactful interventions. They met with graduate student mentors from the Master of Global Affairs and Master of Public Policy programs, who reviewed each intervention and provided feedback to each team.

On the second day of the competition, groups presented their interventions to a panel of judges, which in addition to Landry, included  Dr. Branka Agic, a scientist from the Centre for Mental Health and Addiction (CAMH), and Dr. Carmen Logie, an Associate Professor at the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work and  Canada Research Chair in Global Health Equity and Social Justice with Marginalized Populations.

Each of the presentations were unique and varied. One group proposed a community kitchen and vegetable garden that would allow for cross-cultural programming. Another group pitched a mentorship program that would pair former asylum seekers to Canada with those detained in a holding centre.

The winning team, comprised of Michelle Yan, Owen Hill, Tracy Dusabimana and Kevin Wang, proposed the Immigration Detainment Autonomy Program (IDAP), “a multi-level approach to improving the mental health of detainees through the framework of self-determination theory.” The proposal included goal setting for detainees, immediate mental health assessments upon arrival, and culturally-appropriate and gender-sensitive check-ins with social workers. The judges praised the group for clearly articulating how the intervention would lead to long-term, sustainable change.

“Working on this project increased our awareness of the injustices in our immigration system, particularly in regards to asylum seekers, and deepened our appreciation for how nuanced developing interventions is,” the team members wrote in a statement reflecting on the competition. “The time pressure of 24 hours was certainly a challenge, but we somehow got there, and grew closer as a team because of it.”