VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Five years ago this month, a Mexican woman in the process of being deported hanged herself at YVR’s immigration holding centre.
Lucia Vega Jimenez had been picked up and handed over to Canada Border Services by Transit Police when she couldn’t prove she paid her fare.
She was in Canada illegally, so her deportation was set in motion.
While in custody, it was noted that Jimenez was afraid to return to Mexico because of problems with an ex-boyfriend.
Her flight to Mexico was booked for December 22, 2013. Two days before that she used a towel to hang herself in a shower stall. Paramedics managed to resuscitate her and she was eventually brought to Mount Saint Joseph Hospital in Vancouver where she was taken off life support December 28.
Protests over her death erupted in January. Demonstrators asked why she wasn’t better supervised. Even the Mexico’s consul-general expressed anger over the situation.
In the fall of that year a coroner’s inquest was held. The jury issued 19 recommendations, including that the Canada Border Services Agency establish a separate immigration holding facility, within a 30-minute drive from YVR, and that it be staffed by CBSA staff.
The inquest had heard that CBSA had contracted out staffing at the YVR immigration detention centre.
“The evidence showed that the private security guards contracted to staff the Immigration Holding Centre were not trained to the level of the CBSA employees and there was a high staff turnover, possibly due to low wages. Prior to the incident supervision of the facility by the security company consisted of reviewing the daily log sheets weekly. CBSA supervision appeared to be sporadic,” says the inquest report.
Jimenez’s death also highlighted how vulnerable undocumented migrants are to arrests when using services as transit or hospitals.
Byron Cruz is with advocacy group Sanctuary Health and says five years later, Vancouver still cannot be considered a Sanctuary City, where the local government limits its involvement in enforcing immigration laws.
“If I have to say that the one institution behind on this is the Vancouver Police Department. The VPD still continues its cooperation with the CBSA.”
He points out the Transit Police, New Westminster school district, the Vancouver Public Library and Vancouver Park Board now have policies that outline undocumented migrants will not be turned away from services.
But he says Vancouver Coastal Health’s position is rather grey about its cooperation with Canada Border Services.
“Daily, we get phone calls from people who got injured at work or they’re sick. They have lots of fears of going to the emergency department, going to the hospitals.”
He’s happier with the situation at Fraser Health, which he says has made changes with how it deals with people with precarious immigration status.
In compliance with a recommendation made by the inquest, a new immigration holding centre in Surrey is going to replace the one at YVR.
But Cruz says he would prefer an end to detentions altogether, and he says what the government is doing is exactly the opposite.
“For the first time, they are saying they have a playground for kids at the new Surrey location. They are trying to make it sound like it’s not like a prison, because there’s a playground for kids.”
The Surrey detention centre is scheduled to open in March.