On Sunday, March 13, 2016, Francisco Javier Romero Astorga – our brother, our son – died in immigration detention custody. No one has told us how Francisco died, or why he was in prison. To date, no one from the federal Canadian government, including the Canada Border Services Agency, has contacted us. We do not know of an autopsy and no results of any tests or reasons for his death have been given to us.
All we know is that his body lies in a hospital, and that we must pay nearly $10,000 to bring his body home to give him a proper burial. Our brother, our son’s body has been in a hospital for ten days already, and we are in pain every minute that passes. Behind all this tragedy is a family and a mother who are grieving.
We are writing this open letter to the Canadian government and the Canadian people to request information and support. We want to know why our son, our brother died. We want to know what the Canadian government is doing to make sure this does not happen to anyone else again. We want the Canadian government to provide us the financial resources to return Francisco to us so that he can be laid to rest.
We know that the Canadian government has not provided any information to the Canadian people about Francisco. We want you to know who he was, so that you understand the loss and grief we are suffering.
Four months from now, Francisco would have turned forty years old. He is a father of four children, Ignacio 10, Hector 11, Aimy 12 and Camila 19. He is the eldest brother to Cecilia, Esteban, and Maria. Francisco’s father, Esteban, is a man who holds strong family values and is dedicated to his family. He served in the military for 30 years. Francisco’s mother, Cecilia, is a devoted mother, loves her children, and has always been a pillar of the family. His sister Maria teaches in kinesiology, loves to laugh and is devoted to her family, and his sister Cecilia is self-employed, and is a caring and hardworking person. His brother Esteban, who is very close to his siblings, works in Dubai. Esteban is married with an 18 month old son, Maria is a mother to a 2 year old daughter, and Cecilia is mother to a 5 year old son.
As a young boy Francisco was a fighter. He always stood up for what was right. No matter what. He loved football and played it every day. As an adult, Francisco was a devoted son, a loving brother. His passion was music. He loved to draw. He was passionate about cooking and was an excellent chef. He was a dreamer who was always looking for ways to make the future brighter.
In the mid 1990s, Francisco went to Canada in search of work, so that he could make money to build a better life for himself. He worked in a bakery, and loved Canada. He was happy to be there. By 2002, he had saved up enough money to come back to Chile. He came home with music equipment and plans to open a dance club.
But Francisco was unable to get ahead back here in Chile. He had to sell his equipment, and work odd jobs. It was a difficult time for him and for the whole family, but we came together to support him. By 2015 he was ready to rebuild his life. Francisco wanted to go back to the place that he loved, Canada. He told us he wanted a ‘new beginning’.
In October of 2015, Francisco travelled to Toronto. Some Chilean friends of ours in Canada helped Francisco find somewhere to stay until he found a permanent place to live. A generous and caring family took him in like he was their own son. We were so grateful and moved by their generosity. When we called one day in January to speak to Francisco, the family told us he had not returned home, that they did not know where he was, and were worried about him. We called the Chilean consulate and they informed us that Francisco had been arrested.
The next thing we heard was on Sunday, March 13, 2016 when we received a phone call from the Chilean Consulate informing us that Francisco was dead. In an email a few days later, a detective from the Halton Police Services informed us that the cause of death was “undetermined”. We were told that this was no longer a criminal investigation, and so blood test results would be available by May of 2016.
When cause of death is “undetermined”, the Chilean government does not release the pension that a person has collected. As a result, Francisco’s children will not see a single peso of that money, and we have to bear the costs of transporting his body.
We are utterly in the dark. Francisco’s mother is very ill, and her health has deteriorated rapidly because of this news and we have no answers to give her. Francisco left Chile in perfect health, he spent much of his most recent time in Canada in immigration detention custody and now he is dead. We need to know more, and we need the Canadian people’s help in getting us answers.
There is nothing worse in the world than losing a child. What we want most is to have our son and brother returned to us, laughing and alive. Now that we know that he is not the first person to die in immigration detention, we want an investigation into his death to also tell the truth about what is happening in the Canadian immigration system. How can people be dying in government detention? It is inhuman what immigration detention is doing to people. Families like ours deserve answers. No one else must suffer like we are suffering.