Mexican woman lived like a “ghost” in Vancouver, was despondent after CBSA arrest

Posted by admin on Jan 30th, 2014

By Kim Pemberton, Vancouver Sun January 30, 2014

METRO VANCOUVER — Lucia Vega Jimenez lived like a “ghost” in Vancouver. She had no family, no close friends and worked illegally as a hotel cleaner, sending all her earnings to support her ailing mother in Mexico. In the week before her suicide last month in a Canadian Border Services holding cell, the 42-year-old Vancouver woman was despondent.

Her savings had been stolen while she was in custody, likely by the one man she trusted, her boyfriend who refused to bail her out after she was picked up by border services authorities shortly before Christmas. Vega Jimenez hanged herself in the shower at the holding cell in Vancouver International Airport Dec. 20 and was taken to hospital, where she died eight days later.

“I know she was going to send $4,000 to her family,” said Yasmin Trejo, who was with her at her bedside along with Vega Jimenez’s sister Martha from Mexico when the ventilator that had kept Jimenez alive was turned off.

“Her mom had a heart condition and was very ill. Lucia had been trying to gather the money to pay for her mother’s hospital stay,” said Trejo.

Vega Jimenez took a cloth towel that was in the washroom of the Canada Border Services Agency’s dispenser and used it to hang herself from the shower. A video that police confiscated showed her pacing back and forth from the cell to the washroom several times before she hanged herself on Dec. 20, according to Trejo.

She said a nurse told Martha that her sister had been without oxygen for at least 45 minutes while detained in the YVR holding cells, which are run by the CBSA.

“She was a human being whether she was here illegally or not. I would like to think as Canadians we would at least have protected her while she was here. We protect killers in cells (under surveillance) but not this woman who hasn’t hurt anyone,” said Trejo.

The CBSA refused to discuss the case, but issued a statement Wednesday about conditions of the holding cells.

“The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) has national detention standards, which are consistent with international standards, for its immigration holding centres. The CBSA’s detention facilities, whether in its own immigration holding centres or in corrections facilities, are regularly monitored by independent organizations, namely the Red Cross and the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees),” the statement read.

It went on to say that the authority ensures that detainees are informed of their legal rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They are told why they are being detained and given the right to retain a lawyer. Interpretors are provided when necessary.

“Detainees at CBSA’s immigration holding centres or in corrections facilities are provided with access to legal counsel, telephones and visitation,” the statement said.

The death of Vega Jimenez is now being investigated by the B.C. Coroners Service which may decide to call an inquest in the case.

Jimenez had been deported once in 2010 but returned and had been back in Canada for seven months when she was picked up, Trejo said. She was stopped by Transit Police on SkyTrain station for not having the proper fare and then taken to a Coquitlam detention centre when she could not show identity papers. She was later handed over to border services officials.

“Lucia ended up being a ghost here. No one really knew her here. She had no family here,” said Trejo. “My mom’s friend got her a job cleaning for cash. She knew the boyfriend but didn’t have a good feeling about him.”

Trejo said that after Vega Jimenez was arrested, she had asked her boyfriend to bail her out. When he refused, she called a friend of Trejo’s mother.

The friend went with police to Vega Jimenez’s apartment to try to find her savings.

“Lucia was concerned this boyfriend would take all the cash she kept at home,” Trejo said. Her fears proved legitimate. The money was gone.

Father Eduardo Quintero, the priest who administered the last rites, said he had never met Vega Jimenez but understands she was a kind and caring person.

“Lucia came here for a better life, a sense of security.”

He said Martha told him Lucia helped support herself, her three children and the sisters’ elderly mother in Mexico. She said Lucia had never married and had no children herself.

Martha was only in Canada for one week and had assistance from the Mexican consulate to have her sister’s body flown back to Mexico and to pay the medical bill, Quintero said.

“She wanted to be close to her,” said Quintero, referring to the decision to have the body returned to Mexico.

“It’s an awakening call for all of us to be a more welcoming community. For people to be more compassionate and for us to reach out. Lucia was isolated and left alone. She had no one to count on (in Canada),” he said. “Lucia felt cornered and decided to take her life.”

Vega Jimenez’s refugee application had been turned down, so when she came to the attention of immigration authorities again they would only need to issue a deportation order without the necessity of a hearing, according to immigration lawyer Phil Rankin.

Rankin explained the Canada Border Services Agency would simply write up a sworn statement and take steps to immediately remove her from Canada. He said the immigration officer would have given her bail terms that would allow her release for 24 hours in order to gather her personal effects.

After the story was first reported this week, a petition was launched calling for an independent civilian investigation and inquiry into the death.

The petition also calls for an independent civilian oversight of the CBSA and a review of migrant detention policies.

“I want to know Lucia’s story. I can imagine the despair she must have felt facing a deportation order. We all need to know what happened to her while she was in the custody of Canadian Border Services Agency. This is not the first death or suicide of a migrant in detention or while facing deportation,” said one of the petition organizers Karla Lottini, a journalist who files for Fairchild Radio’s Latino program.

She said a vigil is also planned in honour of Vega Jimenez for Friday, January 31 at 5:30 p.m. in front of CBSA offices at 300 West Georgia.

The petition is available here.

Meanwhile, the BC Civil Liberties issued a press release noting whoever was actually guarding Vega Jimenez it is still the responsibility of the Canadian Border Services Agency.

“The media have reported that a private security company was guarding Ms. Vega Jimenez while she was detained, and that she was able to commit suicide while in custody. Pawning off the job of guarding and protecting prisoners to private companies is irresponsible. And whether it was CBSA officers or contractors hired by CBSA who were guarding Ms. Vega Jimenez – it was CBSA’s responsibility to protect her from harm while she was detained. We need answers as to why that protection failed so tragically for Ms. Vega Jimenez.”

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