Mexican woman’s death prompts calls for civilian oversight of border agency

Posted by admin on Jan 30th, 2014

By: Debra Black Immigration Reporter, Published on Thu Jan 30 2014

Refugee advocates are calling for civilian oversight of the Canada Border Services Agency after a Mexican woman who had been working in a hotel died in hospital following her detention in the immigration holding centre at Vancouver airport. Lucia Vega Jimenez, 42, was found hanging in a shower stall and rushed to hospital on Dec. 20. She died a week later when she was removed from life support with her family present. Jimenez had been picked up in Vancouver on a transit fare violation and was handed over to the border agency for deportation. Her death was not made public until this week. It has triggered a firestorm of criticism over the lack of accountability of the border agency, with many advocates calling for the establishment of an independent civilian oversight mechanism.

“In B.C. or even Ontario, if someone has been killed or died in police custody there is an independent civilian investigation,” explained Josh Paterson, executive director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association.

“If this person had taken her life or died in custody of another police force, there would be an independent investigation. But because she was in custody of the CBSA there is no independent investigation.”

Paterson and other advocates are also calling for an independent civilian inquiry and an inquest into the death of Jimenez. The Coroners Service of British Columbia is investigating. The RCMP had been called in at the time of the incident. No charges were laid.

Lorne Waldman, president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, suggests “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.”

Jean-Christophe de Le Rue, a spokesman for Steven Blaney, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, didn’t answer a question asked by the Star about civilian oversight. But the spokesman did say, “we have been made aware of the tragic event that took place at the B.C. immigration holding centre. The minister expects the CBSA to fully co-operate with the Coroners Service of British Columbia.”

Neither did the border agency address the call for improved oversight. A spokeswoman, Amitha Carnadin, said the agency “is not in a position to release further information while the B.C. Coroners Service investigation is ongoing.

“The health and safety of those in our care is of paramount concern,” Carnadin added.

In a joint news release, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, the Canadian Council for Refugees and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association said the case “highlights the lack of any oversight over the actions of CBSA officials, an organization that has been given broad powers of arrest and detention by Parliament.”

What also concerns these groups is that “there has been no public explanation from the CBSA for what happened; whether anything could have been done to prevent the death and what steps are being taken now to determine whether there was any failing on the part of CBSA officials who were responsible for her care while she was in custody.”

With files from The Canadian Press

Comments are closed.