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The inquest into the death of Lucia Vega Jimenez

A British Columbia Coroners Service inquest into the death of Lucia Vega Jimenez will take place in Vancouver starting September 29.

Lucia was a 42-year-old undocumented hotel worker who hung herself on December 20, 2013 in a Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) holding cell at the the Vancouver International Airport just prior to her scheduled deportation to Mexico. She died eight days later at Mount St. Joseph Hospital in Vancouver.

She had made a refugee claim in 2010 that had been rejected. She reportedly returned to Canada in late 2013. She was then detained by transit police in Vancouver on December 1, 2013 for allegedly not paying her bus fare. When the police learned of her identity they called the CBSA. She was held in custody for three weeks, first at the Alouette Correctional Centre and then at the airport.

Numerous concerns have been raised about her death:

  • It was almost a full month before the news of her death was made public. When her sister came to pick up Lucia’s remains, she was reportedly asked by CBSA to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

  • Jean-Pierre Fortin, national president of the Customs and Immigration Union, says that while Lucia was in the custody of CBSA, she was detained by a sub-contracted security company.

  • Lawyers are not allowed into the CBSA holding cells at the Vancouver airport. Immigration lawyer Phil Rankin says, “It’s a very lonely, isolated place out there. No one gets in or out. It’s very impersonal, very secure [and] very private. There’s no John Howard Society, no visits from family or lawyers. They want to move these people without fuss or muss. There’s no oversight by non-officials.”

  • Lorne Waldman, president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, says, “Given the nature of the powers granted to CBSA to arrest and detain, what is needed is an arms-length, independent public oversight mechanism with sufficient resources to conduct proper investigations.”

  • It has also been noted there has been no public explanation from the CBSA about how Lucia died, if anything could have been done to prevent her death, and what, if any, steps are being taken to determine if there were any failings on the part of CBSA officials responsible for her care while she was in custody.

The inquest will be presided over by Margaret Janzen and a jury. It will “hear evidence from witnesses under oath to determine the facts surrounding the death. An inquest jury may not, by law, make any findings of fault or legal responsibility; however, it will have the opportunity to make recommendations related to the evidence presented.”

24 Hours Vancouver has reported, “Several immigration applicants have committed suicide after being denied their claims by Canada. In 2010, former Eritrean soldier Habtom Kibraeb, 40, killed himself in Halifax after losing his appeal for asylum. Two years later, Iranian refugee claimant Hossein Blujani, 31, committed suicide in Vancouver after being denied status. Last October, police ruled the shooting deaths of Iranian immigrants Mohamed, Shyroz and Qyzra Walji in London, Ont. a ‘murder-suicide.'”

The Council of Canadians recognizes that historically unequal economic relations, resource exploitation, trade agreements – like the North American Free Trade Agreement – and increasingly climate change create the conditions which contribute to the migration of people, and that migrants face unjust treatment and danger crossing militarized borders as they flee these circumstances. They face further discrimination, racism and hardship as undocumented residents in “First World” countries like Canada that often bear responsibility for the conditions which forced their migration from their home countries. In an era with no restrictions on the flow of global capital, we question the restrictions on the movement and freedom of people.