Detained migrants call for inquest into Abdi Hassan's death

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Screen Shot: Detainee petition

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Eighty-eight immigration detainees inside the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ontario signed a petition calling for an inquest into Abdurahman "Abdi" Ibrahim Hassan's death while in custody. 

The original handwritten petition was smuggled out of the CECC inside of a thick folder of legal documents faxed to the End Immigration Detention Network's paralegal.

It's now online, released via the EIDN, and demands a coroner's inquest into Hassan's death, that the inquest be made public, that the inquest be thorough and include talking to current immigration detainees, that recommendations from the inquest be made immediately and that "parties responsible must be made accountable."

The final stipulation refers to two police officers that were present at the time of Hassan's death.

Hassan, who was diabetic, was admitted the Peterborough Regional Health Centre for "medical reasons," according to a release from the Special Investigations Unit.

According to the SIU, Hassan became "agitated" around 1 a.m. on July 11 and was "restrained by the officers and by health professionals."

"Shortly after, the man [Hassan] went vital signs absent and was pronounced dead," the release concludes.

Hassan was a 39-year-old refugee from Somalia who came to Canada in 1993. He was in immigration detention for the last three years of his life and solitary confinement for the final one.

Mina Ramos, an advocate with the End Immigration Detention Network, said many of the people in the CECC immigration detention range, which typically holds 120-160 immigration detainees, had close ties with Hassan.

"A lot of people had personal experiences with [Hassan]. They were his long-time friends. They knew that he had been held in segregation for almost a year prior to his death so he was not in a good place… they just felt like there were too many questions and not enough answers," she said.

It's been nearly two months since Hassan's death on June 11. The Canada Border Services Agency, the agency responsible for detaining people without valid immigration status, still have not released Hassan's name. Although the SIU stated it was conducting an investigation, nothing has been released yet.

"In terms of why people are asking for a coroner's inquest… they suspect Hassan did not die from a medical condition and there was foul play," said Ramos, speaking of the vague description of the restraint Hassan endured.

In 2009, the Coroner's Act was revised to make all deaths while in custody subject to mandatory coroner investigations but not inquests.

"Deaths in custody are subject to mandatory coroner investigations but are only subject to mandatory inquests when the death is deemed to be non-natural," said Cheryl Mahyr, spokesperson for the Ontario coroner's office.

Natural deaths can still be subject to inquest, but that is up to the discretion of the coroner.

She said the coroner's office is still investigating the circumstances surrounding Hassan's death.

The petition gained 1,000 signatures in the first 24 hours it was released, and Ramos says she hopes it hits 2,500 before her organization presents it to the chief coroner. They're also delivering it to Steven Blaney, the minister of public safety, and Yasir Naqvi, the minister of corrections for Ontario. 

"By putting their names on it they're really putting themselves on the line," said Ramos, speaking of the 88 detainees who signed the petition. "They're at risk of getting deported with every action that they do."

This petition came recently after the United Nations advised Canada to only use detention as a last resort for migrants.

Megan Devlin is rabble's news intern for 2015. She hails from Toronto, but she’s starting her Masters in Journalism in Vancouver. She got her start in journalism working at the Western Gazette where she was a news editor for volume 107 and online associate editor for volume 108.

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