Friday’s protests come 2 months after a Mexican woman died in immigration detention. Advocates want civilian oversight and an end to indefinite jailing of migrants.
By: Nicholas Keung, Immigration reporter
Two months after a Mexican woman was found dead in immigration detention, advocates are staging a day of action across Canada to demand accountability and transparency in border enforcement.
Four protests have been planned in Montreal, Vancouver, London and Toronto, where migrant advocates will deliver 10,000 petitions to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) headquarters on Airport Rd. on Friday. The network of advocacy groups is calling for civilian oversight over immigration enforcement, an end to indefinite detention, release of immigration detainees from maximum-security prisons and an overhaul of the detainee release process.
The actions are planned just as the British Columbia Coroners Service announced this week it would hold an inquest into the death of Lucia Vega Jimenez. The 42-year-old was found hanging in a shower stall at a holding centre at Vancouver Airport on Dec. 20 and died in hospital a week later. She had been picked up on a transit fare violation and handed over to border officials for deportation.
“An independent, transparent and public inquest is a necessary first step to shine some light on the secrecy that has surrounded the tragic death of Lucia,” said Harsha Walia, of No One Is Illegal, in Vancouver. “However, an inquest alone is not sufficient to address the impunity with which CBSA operates. The devastating consequences of policies like indefinite detention, mandatory detention and administrative detention in Canada need to be scrapped.”
Tings Chak, the Toronto protest’s organizer, said each city will highlight different issues with border enforcement. Here, she said, putting an end to indefinite detention of migrants is a key concern, because the city houses the largest number of migrant inmates. According to border officials, about 600 people are on immigration hold at a given time, and of those about 10 per cent have been detained for over a year. “We are challenging the indefinite separations of families and detentions throughout the country,” said Chak.
Rosalind Wong, an organizer in Montreal, said other migrants have resorted to seeking sanctuary, such as Khurshid Begum Awan, a Pakistani grandmother and failed refugee claimant who has lived in a Montreal church for six months to avoid deportation. “To give up freedom and confine yourself is one of many tough decisions migrants are forced to make,” Wong said. As a result of tightened border enforcement, “people increasingly risk their lives and make dangerous choices to come and stay here.”
While an independent complaint and investigation process is crucial to the civilian oversight of the CBSA, Walia said political and legislative changes are needed to ensure the agency is accountable and transparent to the public. Earlier this month, 15,000 people attended candlelight vigils in Australia to protest the country’s immigration policies after the death of Reza Barati, an Iranian migrant killed in a violent breakout from an Australian-run detention camp in Papua New Guinea. Walia said Canada should not adopt Australian-style detention policies, which have been “condemned internationally.”