THE B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) has been granted participant status at the coroner’s inquest into the suicide death of Lucia Vega Jimenez while in custody of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) in December 2013.
Lucia Vega Jimenez attempted to hang herself at the immigration holding centre at the Vancouver Airport in December 2013, and died later in hospital. CBSA did not disclose her death to the public, although the coroner and police were notified. After assessing the case, and following two months of public calls by the BCCLA and many other groups, the BC Coroner’s Service called an inquest into Vega Jiménez’s death.
“We are participating in this inquest in order to get answers to serious questions surrounding Ms. Vega Jimenez’s death in CBSA custody,” said Josh Paterson, Executive Director of the BC Civil Liberties Association. “The public needs to know whether Ms. Vega Jimenez’s death could have been prevented. We need to know what role in her death, if any, was played by the CBSA-hired private security company, Genesis Security, supervising detainees at the airport. And we need to know whether Ms. Vega Jimenez had access to appropriate mental health and medical services while she was detained by CBSA.”
The coroner will look at matters up to the time of Vega Jiménez’s death. It does not have the authority to find fault, or the ability to examine other issues that arose after her death that the BCCLA and others have raised.
Paterson added: “We still don’t have answers from CBSA as to why it failed to disclose her death to the public, and why news of Ms. Vega Jimenez’s death only reached the public when it leaked out through rumours and finally into the media. CBSA has also failed to disclose whether it asked Ms. Vega Jiménez’s family to sign some sort of agreement after her death. They have given a specifically-worded denial along the lines that they never requested a confidentiality agreement from the family, which leaves open whether there was some other kind of agreement. We still need answers to these questions, and unfortunately the inquest won’t be able to provide them.”
The coroner granted participant status to the BCCLA and to the Canadian Council of Refugees. However, a coalition of Latin American community members and migrant groups in Vancouver, called the Coalition for Immigrant Rights, was denied the right to participate in the inquest.
“We are disappointed that community groups who have been closely involved in the aftermath of Ms. Vega Jiménez’s case have been denied the opportunity to participate in this inquest. Working together, these groups have been leading the way in calling for accountability into her death. Because of their close connection to these events, and knowledge of the case, their participation would help the Coroner to arrive at the truth of what happened. It would also ensure that the Latin American and Mexican communities of Vancouver are included in the process of seeking accountability for this tragedy,” said Patterson.
Rocco Trigueros, a Mexican Vancouverite who works with the coalition, stated: “Our coalition, and the communities represented within in it, are anxious to know what happened to Lucia while she was in the custody of Canadian Border Services Agency. We have several key concerns we were going to bring forward to the inquest, as well as vital information for the Coroner about Lucia’s life. Given that the Mexican Consulate has chosen not to participate in the inquest, who will represent our community’s interest?”
The BCCLA is represented by lawyer Jason Gratl and his firm Gratl and Associates in this inquest. Gratl is a member of the BCCLA’s board of directors.