A B.C. Coroners Service jury has issued a long list of changes it recommends be adopted by Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), the Government of Canada, and B.C. Corrections.
Many of the suggestions concern immigration detainees’ mental-health needs.
Among them, that CBSA officers and subcontractors receive mandatory training on mental health, suicide prevention, and diversity, and that staff attend courses on “handling detainees in a respectful manner”.
It also recommends that detainees receive mental and physical-health assessments no later than 72 hours after arriving at an immigration holding centre. A review of a detainee’s mental health should be conducted prior to deportation. And a mental-health care professional should be present when a detainee is informed that they will be deported from Canada.
Those recommendations and many others are presented in a three-page report that delivers the findings of B.C. Coroners Service inquest into the death of Lucia Vega Jiménez.
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 hung herself in a shower stall. She later died at Mount St. Joseph Hospital on December 28, 2013.
The Canadian Red Cross previously called attention to mental-health care deficiencies at the B.C. Immigration Holding Centre. A report dated 2012-13 describes mental-health services 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,” the Red Cross report states.
A judge and jury heard evidence related to the in-custody death beginning on September 29. The Coroners Service can't legally assign fault, but should establish facts surrounding a death and make recommendations aimed at preventing future deaths that might arise from similar circumstances. Its findings related to Vega Jiménez’s were issued last night (October 7).
In addition to mental health, a number of the jury’s recommendations concern the deployment of private security guards.
At the time Vega Jiménez committed suicide, the immigration holding centre at Vancouver International Airport was staffed by private contractors employed by Genesis Security Group.
The Coroners Service jury said that immigration holding centres should be staffed by CBSA officers (who receive more training than private-security guards).
Another theme through the jury’s report is immigration detainees’ access to information and legal counsel.
Detainees should be given instructions for how to access a lawyer and how to contact a nongovernmental organization that might be able to provide assistance, the report states. And if there is any doubt about a detainee’s ability to understand English, a translator should be immediately provided.
On September 24, the Straight reported that the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) would attend the Vega Jiménez inquest to highlight the importance of NGOs having access to immigrants facing deportation.
Speaking to that story, CCR executive director Janet Dench said that NGOs have access to CBSA immigration detention facilities serving Toronto and Montreal, but not the facility at Vancouver International Airport.
“That is something that we have raised in the past with CBSA,” Dench said.
The jury also recommended that CBSA create a “dedicated” immigration holding centre at or near Vancouver International Airport. Falling short of that suggestion, the jury asked that a minimum, CBSA ensure its existing Vancouver facility receive upgrades that minimize detainees’ likelihood to harm themselves.
Finally, the Coroners Service jury recommended that the federal government appoint an independent ombudsperson to mediate future concerns and complaints related to CBSA. It also asked Ottawa to create a civilian organization to investigate serious incidents that occur in CBSA custody.
CBSA responded to a request for an interview with an email asking that questions be submitted in writing. The Straight does not submit questions in advance of an interview. This article will be updated if and when a CBSA representative is made available.
A response to the inquest’s findings has been posted on CBSA's website. It’s stated there that CBSA has already implemented some reforms in response to the death of Vega Jiménez.
It has increased oversight and monitoring at the YVR immigration detention centre. CBSA has also reviewed its contract with Genesis Security. It now requires that private- security guards deployed to immigration detainee holding centres receive enhanced training on suicide and self-injury prevention.
“This is not the end of the matter,” the CBSA statement adds. “The CBSA will carefully review all findings and recommendations resulting from the inquest.”