BCCLA says Coroner’s verdict in Lucía Vega Jiménez inquest loud wake-up call to CBSA

THE Coroner’s jury in the Lucía Vega Jiménez inquest released its recommendations on Tuesday after hearing six days of evidence. Vega Jiménez was being detained by the Canada Border Services Agency when she hanged herself in a detention facility washroom at Vancouver International Airport in December 2013. The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), which has raised questions publicly about her death since it first came to light through media reports in January 2014, was a participant in the inquest and proposed 16 recommendations for the jury’s consideration.

Josh Paterson, Executive Director of the BC Civil Liberties Association, said: “This verdict is a loud wake-up call to Canada Border Services Agency. The jury’s recommendations for change confirm the thick catalog of problems in CBSA’s detention system in general, and the way Ms Vega Jiménez was treated in particular. All together, these problems appear to have set the stage for her tragic death.

“This inquest heard testimony of incompetence, inattention and indifference in the way CBSA treated Ms Vega Jiménez. We learned of the monumental failure on the part of CBSA to manage its own detention facility at the airport. We learned of poor training, failure to comply with the basic standards set for the detention centre, and falsifying records. And we heard of CBSA’s rush to deport Ms Vega Jiménez, without regard for the clear indications that she needed medical attention for a mental health issue.

“The Coroner’s jury – the citizens charged with hearing this evidence and making recommendations – have echoed the call of BCCLA and others to create an independent civilian oversight agency for CBSA. The CBSA’s shoddy management in this case means there’s no reason to trust they will properly implement the many changes that are required. CBSA management let these problems persist for some time, and now someone is dead. We don’t allow any police force in the country to go without independent oversight – after years of calling for CBSA accountability, this verdict confirms that they can no longer be permitted to function without it.”

The Coroner’s jury also recommended the closure of the immigration detention facility deep beneath Vancouver airport, which the inquest heard did not meet international human rights standards for such facilities.

“The airless, depressing detention facility deep in the bowels of the Vancouver airport must be closed.  People must only be detained as an absolute last resort, and when they are, they must be held in a humane facility that recognizes that they are not criminals. No orange jumpsuits. No shackling for transportation. And no being mixed in with convicted prisoners.”

The jury concluded immigration holding facilities should be run by government employees, not private security companies.

“For-profit companies simply must not be the ones to care for and protect detainees. This is the job of the government, and then only in the rarest circumstances in which detention is absolutely necessary. The jury heard startling evidence of CBSA’s failure to adequately supervise the private security in its own facility, including failing to make sure that the required number of guards were on hand the morning that Ms Vega Jiménez tried to take her life. CBSA must move immediately to eliminate private contracts for these functions, and must have dedicated officers whose sole job it is to care for and protect the people in detention.”

The BCCLA was represented at the inquest by lawyers Jason Gratl of Gratl and Company, Neil Chantler of Chantler and Company, and Paterson. Gratl is a member of the BCCLA’s board of directors and its executive committee.