Vigil for Vega Jimenez to demand public inquiry and migrant detention policy reform

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Tonight in Vancouver, there will be a vigil to honour the life of Lucia Vega Jimenez, demand justice and call for reform.

On December 28, 2013, Lucia Vega Jimenez committed suicide while in the custody of the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA). Vega Jimenez hung herself on December 19 and died on December 28. The Agency subsequently kept her death a secret for more than a month and according to some reports forced her sister, Martha, to sign a non-disclosure secrecy agreement once she arrived in Canada to support her sister in the hospital.

Vega Jimenez claimed refugee status in Canada upon her arrival from Mexico, however, her claim was denied in 2010. After her claim was rejected, Vega Jimenez was deported and when she returned sometime in 2012 or 2013, was forced to live underground in Canada in order to avoid being deported again back to Mexico. She did not have any family or close friends in Canada and survived by working as a hotel cleaner sending all her earnings to support her ailing mother, as well her sister and three children, who all continue to live in Mexico.

As there is currently limited information available surrounding the circumstances that brought her here, we can only speculate why Vega Jimenez continued to live in such precarious conditions in Canada. Her situation was likely similar to that of many other refugee claimants and migrants living undocumented in Canada, who feel unsafe returning to their home countries and are stuck living in precarious conditions.

In December 2013, Vega Jimenez was arrested by Translink police for not paying adequate fare and was transferred to immigration officials. She was then incarcerated and detained in a provincial prison pending deportation until she was transferred to a detention cell at the Vancouver International Airport on December 19, 2013.

Reverend Eduardo Quintero, who administered her last rites, confirmed that Vega Jimenez hung herself with a shower curtain in her detention cell. On December 20, 2013 she was rushed to Mount St. Joseph's Hospital where she died a week later, while still under CBSA custody.

This is not the first time a refugee claimant facing deportation has died under questionable circumstances, either by suicide or other means.

In February of 2010, Habtom Kibreab, an Eritrean refugee in Halifax, hanged himself after losing an asylum appeal to the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board. In December of 2012, Hossein Blujani, a recognized UNHCR refugee, took his own life in Vancouver after he was declared a 'threat' and inadmissible on security grounds. Similarly in October of 2013, Mohamed, Shyroz and their 21 year old daughter Qyzra Walji killed themselves in a murder-suicide rather than be deported back to Tanzania. The family had been trying to gain permanent residency in Canada for 15 years but never succeeded.

In a case of an individual dying while under the custody of immigration officials, Jan Szamko, a Roma refugee from the Czech Republic, died of heart failure in December 2009, two days after being transferred from the Toronto Immigration Holding Centre to the Toronto West Detention Centre while awaiting deportation.

Vega Jimenez's tragic death, along with those mentioned above, speaks to the unjust and inhumane nature of Canada's immigration and refugee policies. These policies and international agreements were originally established to ensure that individuals facing so much despair and hopelessness would have a safe place to turn to in order to live their lives with dignity. The current structure forces migrants to live their lives in the margins, putting them at greater risk as they are forced to live in continuous fear. Further, as in the case of too many migrants, they feel they have no other option but to take their own lives when they realize there is nowhere else to turn.

Taking action to change immigration detention and deportation policies

No One is Illegal, the Latin American Committee for Refugees and Migrant Justice, and many concerned community members are demanding three actions take place in light of this tragedy. These demands are directed at the Minister of Public Safety, Steven Blaney, the Canadian Border Services Agency and the BC Coroners Service.

We demand an immediate, transparent and independent civilian inquiry and investigation into the tragic and shameful death of Vega Jimenez while under CBSA custody. Although the Richmond RCMP was tasked with investigating this incident and have found "no criminal cause," police-on-police investigations are completely inappropriate and incomplete. CBSA must be held accountable for this, and any other, tragic and shameful deaths resulting from exclusionary and violent policies of detention and deportation.

We demand an independent civilian oversight and a comprehensive review of Canada's migrant detention policies. An increasing number of people, having been forced to flee their homes to escape persecution, are being detained on arrival in Canada.

Lastly, we demand that cruel and punitive conditions of migrant detention, such as indefinite detention as well as new regulations under the Refugee Exclusion Act that permit mandatory detention and a two-tier refugee system, must end. The new regulations, which require that refugee claimants that enter Canada in "irregular" ways (iie. smuggling) face mandatory detention, are inhumane and further penalize individuals who are fleeing persecution and who are already in a precarious situation.

These inhumane policies translate into very real and horrific circumstances for migrants, which lead to tragic stories such as that of Vega Jimenez. As a society, we must stop valuing people's lives according to their legal status or the quality of their labour.

In light of Vega Jimenez's tragic story, if you are wondering what you can do, here are some actions you can take:

1. Please sign and share this petition 

2. Please call these numbers directly to pressure for an independent investigation and an end to cruel and punitive conditions of migrant detention:

Lisa Lapointe, Chief Coroner: 604 660-7745

Barb McLintock, BC Coroners Service: 250-356-9253

Steven Blaney, Public Safety Minister: 613-944-4875 or 613-992-7434

Roslyn MacVicar, Pacific Regional Director CBSA: 604-666-0760

John Dyck, Metro Vancouver District Director CBSA: 604-775-6790

3. Lastly, there is a vigil to honour the life of Lucia Vega Jimenez and demand justice for her death, this Friday, January 31, 2014 at 5:30 pm PST in front of the CBSA offices on 300 West Georgia, Vancouver. This vigil is being organized by concerned community members, No One Is Illegal, and the Latin American Committee for refugees and Migrant Justice.

Last year there were over 9,000 migrants detained, including 289 children. We say: not one more death, not one more detention, not one more deportation.

Hasan Alam and Shireen Soofi are members of No One Is Illegal Vancouver on unceded Coast Salish Territories.

Poster: No One Is Illegal

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