A Red Cross report on Canada’s immigration detention centres raises specific concerns about a B.C. facility where a Mexican woman named Lucia Vega Jiménez reportedly attempted suicide. She died in hospital days later.
“In the BC IHC [Immigration Holding Centre] there are no mental health services on hand,” the document states. “Instead persons are sent to other facilities to receive care. This determination is made by a CBSA [Canada Border Service Agency] officer. The lack of regular mental health professionals at this facility is a concern particularly for persons who remain detained in the BC IHC for long periods.”
In December 2013, Vega Jiménez was apprehended by Transit Police for failing to produce a TransLink ticket. She was turned over to the CBSA and detained at the B.C. Immigration Holding Centre at Vancouver International Airport.
There, awaiting deportation, Vega Jiménez reportedly hung herself in a shower stall. She later died at Mount St. Joseph Hospital on December 28, 2013.
According to the Red Cross report, which is dated 2012-13, the organization’s monitoring of CBSA detention facilities across Canada included six visits to the holding centre at Vancouver International Airport.
The document describes “mental health in detention” as an area where “protection gaps were present”.
“Detainees in both IHCs and provincial correctional facilities are at an increased risk of developing or exacerbating mental health issues,” it states.
The report recommends that the CBSA ensure that “all immigration detainees, regardless of detention location, have access to appropriate mental health services including but not limited to counselling, psychological and/or psychiatric services”.
It is unclear exactly when the Red Cross report was received by CBSA officials. It is also unknown whether or not CBSA responded to the Red Cross’s specific concerns regarding the care of detainees with mental-health challenges, or if CBSA addressed concerns about detainees held at the CBSA facility at Vancouver International Airport.
CBSA declined to make a representative available for an interview.
Vega Jiménez’s death is the subject of a B.C. Coroners Service inquest that began today (September 29).
On the phone from the inquest underway at the Coroner’s Court in Burnaby, B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) executive director Josh Paterson said that at the time of Vega Jiménez’s attempted suicide, she was reportedly not being watched by CBSA employees. He explained it is his understanding she was instead monitored by private security guards contracted by CBSA.
“It’s said to be CBSA’s responsibility to identify people at BC IHC that have mental health difficulties and then refer them,” Paterson told the Straight. “But if they are not even there, who’s doing that?”
More generally, Paterson added that the BCCLA is “not surprised” by the Red Cross’s findings.
“The tragedy of Lucia Vega Jiménez is only one example where we question whether or not the conditions of her detention and the actions or inaction of CBSA contributed to the tragedy,” he said.
The Red Cross document is a confidential annual report that was released to Canadian Press journalist Jim Bronskill under the Access to Information Act.
In addition to the detention of people with mental-health challenges, the report details a number of other “key concerns” regarding “non-compliance” with national and international standards.
That list includes access to immigration detainees, legal guarantees, minors in detention, co-mingling, access to family contact, alternatives to detention, and designated foreign nationals.
The Red Cross report emphasizes that conditions at immigration detention facilities across Canada are inconsistent, and that detainees generally fair worse when they are held under provincial jurisdiction.
“The CRCS has observed that persons detained in provincial correctional facilities (PFCs), overall, are detained in a more restrictive environment, receive more restrictive treatment and have less access to many support services than those detained in IHCs,” the document reads.
In related news, the government of Canada revealed yesterday (September 28) that an individual held at the Niagara Detention Centre in Thorold, Ontario, died while in CBSA custody on September 27.
No One Is Illegal, a migrant-rights organization, has identified the man as 43-year-old Joseph Charles Todd Dunn and called the death a suicide.
A government media release only describes the individual as an “adult male” and provides no further details. It’s stated there that CBSA has informed police and a coroner’s office of the death. It adds that no further information will be released while an investigation is ongoing.