On Monday (September 29), a B.C. coroner and jury will begin hearing evidence related to the death of Lucia Vega Jiménez, a Mexican immigrant who reportedly attempted suicide while in the custody of the Canada Border Services Agency and died without regaining consciousness eight days later in hospital.
In a telephone interview, Ana David, general coordinator for Latinos in Action, expressed disappointment with the B.C. Coroners Service for denying a coalition of Latin-American organizations permission to participate in the inquest.
“Being shunned out as a group and as a coalition is a rather strong message to us that it doesn’t matter what we think and it doesn’t matter what we say,” she told the Straight. “The larger issue is that immigrants are throwaway people.”
Vega Jiménez, 42, was found hanging in a shower stall at Vancouver International Airport in December 2013. She was awaiting deportation after being apprehended by Transit Police for failing to produce a TransLink ticket.
The Straight previously reported that in 2013, Transit Police reported 328 incidents to the CBSA, resulting in 62 investigations.
Coroners Service spokesperson Barb McLintock said by phone that the inquest should establish the circumstances around Vega Jiménez’s death but legally cannot assign blame. What the jury can do is make recommendations aimed at preventing future deaths in similar circumstances, she added.
According to McLintock, the coalition of Latin-American groups of which David spoke was denied participatory status because another organization, the Canadian Council for Refugees, was already selected to represent the views of immigrants.
“A lot of times, you’ll get a number of different groups all basically representing the same constituency,” McLintock said.
On the phone from Montreal, CCR executive director Janet Dench said her organization is attending the inquest to highlight the importance of nongovernmental organizations having access to immigrants facing deportation or similarly difficult circumstances.
Dench noted that CBSA facilities in Toronto and Montreal permit visits by groups offering assistance. “But in the B.C. detention centre, there is no access for NGOs,” she said.
The only other organization approved for participatory status is the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.
After Vega Jiménez’s death was reported by media, the BCCLA raised questions about alleged irregularities. It has asked why Vega Jiménez’s sister reportedly signed a confidentiality agreement in relation to the death (CBSA has denied that document exists). The BCCLA also expressed concern for reports that Vega Jiménez was monitored by private security guards and not by trained CBSA officers.
The inquest will take place at the Coroner’s Court in Burnaby and is expected to last one week.