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Rights + Justice

Inquest Jury Recommends End to CBSA Outsourcing

The in-custody death of Lucía Vega Jiménez flagged major inadequacies in immigration holding centres. A recap.

Sarah Berman 8 Oct

Sarah Berman is an editor at The Tyee. Her writing has appeared in VICE, Adbusters, Maclean's, The Globe and Mail and many other publications.

Since day one of the B.C. Coroner's inquest into the death of Lucía Vega Jiménez, Tyee reporter David Ball spoke with participants with deep concerns about the use of contracted security guards in Canadian Border Services Agency detainment facilities. We learned the inquest would hear testimony from Jivan Sandhu, the private guard who found the undocumented Mexican woman hanging in a shower stall on Dec. 20, and the Transit Police officer who testified Vega Jiménez's accent led him to contact border services.

As the inquest unfolded, Ball reported on gaps in mental health assessment and treatment. A Spanish-speaking nurse flagged Vega Jiménez's scars and fear of violence if she returned home. The nurse scheduled a follow-up to address these mental health concerns, but the appointment was cancelled due to a clerical mistake.

Yesterday The Tyee ran a story highlighting inadequate training for non-CBSA guards, understaffing at holding centres, and high turnover among workers. The inquest found Sandhu falsified documents, reporting room checks when none were completed. The only suicide prevention training was a printed package that guards could not remove from the facility. "Unless the CBSA is directly responsible and directly staffing the detention facilities, then the safety and well-being of the immigrant detainees may be adversely impacted," a lawyer representing CBSA officers told The Tyee.

When the verdict came through yesterday evening, the inquest jury echoed many of the inadequacies reported here. While the recommendations cannot lay blame, the jury’s findings read as scathing criticism of detention conditions. Most notably, the inquest recommends holding centres should be staffed solely by CBSA officers, legal counsel and NGO support should be available to detainees, and guards should take courses on treating detainees with respect.

Here is the jury's recommendations for all holding centres:

Create a dedicated holding centre for immigration detainees.
Centre should be located within 30 minutes driving of YVR.
Centre should be staffed by CBSA employees.
Detainees must have access to legal counsel, medical services, NGOs, spiritual and family visits.
Detainees should have monitored Internet access.
Telephones should be readily available and capable of free local calls and the use of international calling cards.
Centre should be above ground allowing natural light, ventilation and outside access.
Detainees should be allowed to wear civilian clothing.
Centre should have an onsite courtroom for immigration hearings.

And these were the jury's recommendations for the Vancouver airport holding centre "at a minimum":

Legal counsel and NGOs must be allowed access.
Self-harm proofing of bathrooms and sleeping rooms should be completed immediately.
Call buttons need to be added to each sleeping room.
Holding area should become staffed solely by CBSA.
Telephones should be readily available and capable of free local calls and the use of international calling cards.
An AED [defibrillator] should be placed in the control room with the first aid kit.

The following training should be mandatory for all CBSA and subcontracted security companies having contact with detainees: suicide prevention, courses relating to the mental health of others, courses on handling detainees in a respectful manner, diversity training.

CBSA responded to the recommendations late yesterday evening. "The CBSA has taken this incident very seriously and immediately conducted a review of its internal detention operations at the Vancouver facility," reads the statement. The document goes on to say border services have reviewed the existing contract with private security, has updated standing orders, increased oversight and monitoring procedures and enhanced suicide and self-injury prevention training.

You can find more of David Ball's reporting on immigration enforcement and the Sanctuary City movement calling for reforms here.  [Tyee]

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