Canada’s Border Security Agency : Not like TV?
National Geographic Channel’s television program, Border Security: Canada’s Front line, portrays federal border agents as good-natured and most of all, highly skillful and professional individuals. We do not know what happens on the program after illegal aliens are refused access into Canada, but they are generally detained for a period of time in order to undertake a case assessment by the IRB (Immigration and Refugee Board) to be released or to await deportation (cbsa-asfc.gc.ca).
Incidentally, an unexpected tragedy has left many upset and stunned at the lack of surveillance for one woman held by the CBSA (Canadian Border Security Agency) in Vancouver. Her name was Lucia Vega Jimenez and it is said that she lived like a “ghost”. She had no family, no close friends and worked illegally as a hotel chambermaid (huffingtonpost.ca). For two years, Jimenez had tried to obtain refugee status in Vancouver, but her claim was denied. The underlying reason as to how police learned about her identity was due to an unpaid transit ticket. She was arrested, transferred to a jail, and sent to the CBSA holding cell for three weeks to await deportation to Mexico (Vancouversun.com). Shortly after, the 42-year-old woman was found hanging by a shower curtain from a shower stall in the immigration holding center at the Vancouver airport. She was then hospitalized for eight days with no signs of regaining consciousness before being finally removed from life-support (Cbc.ca).
People craved answers, but none were given. Josh Patterson from the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association claims that it took a month for the story to break through the media, and thinks it is completely unacceptable that someone dies in the custody of a law enforcement agency and that no disclosure are made to the public (noii-van.resist.ca). What we are thinking is what the hell happened here? Who is accountable for such an incident? Could the death of this woman should have been prevented if she has been granted admission in Canada? And what was horribly awaiting her in Mexico that lead her to desperately take her own life? I believe those questions will remain unanswered if not indefinitely, but at least for a while considering the CBSA and Genesis Security, a company hired by the Federal Government to work alongside the police officials, refuse to answer any questions.
According to reporters Amy Judd and Peter Meiszner from Global News, it is the CBSA that is in charge of the holding center in Vancouver airport, but it contracts out to Genesis. It is said that it was Genesis Security personnel who were present when Jimenez attempted suicide and who was left unattended for at least an hour. Once again, it boils down to who wasn’t doing their job according to the appropriate standards. According to Statistics Canada, from 1991 to 2006, there was a significant increase in private security personnel. In 2006, there were approximately 102,000 private security personnel compared to 68,000 police officers. Apparently, this increase was due to the growth in numbers of security guards (statcan.gc.ca). As Dupont noted, public authorities will want to hire private security agents to monitor and observe detainees in order to liberate and allow them to conduct other tasks (La gouvernance et la sécurité p. 77). There is a complementary relationship between public and private agents, where the latter is the gap-filler and the other is the pursuant of better things to do. Furthermore, the adhering party must abide by the rules, regulations and oversight of its host. Hence, these private agents must have the proper training and experience when dealing with detainees. But who exactly is overlooking the federal agency? Activists believe the CBSA must be held accountable for the death of Ms. Jimenez, who was in its care and custody at the time. He noted that there is no independent oversight of the federal agency, and said an independent, civilian-led investigation is needed in order for the public to have confidence in the results (nooneisillegal.org).
An illegal immigrant, such as Lucia Vega Jimenez, is not a criminal in the strict sense. Most of them are merely trying to escape a frightening fate such as poverty, prostitution and even death, in the hopes of coming to a promising land. Consequently, such institutions as the CBSA are mandated by the Crown to ensure the security and prosperity of Canada by managing access of people (loc.gov).
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is responsible for enforcing the law when people cross illegally between ports of entry (oag-bvg.gc.ca). Moreover, should the CBSA and Genesis Security be responsable for Jimenez’s action of taking her own life? It is a difficult question to answer. Canada has housed more than 36,000 to 500,000 illegal immigrants, as of 2008(immigrationwatchcanada.org). We cannot expect these agents, private or public, to be aware of the personal situations of every person and to anticipate how each one will react to their deportation to their origin country. Also, why keep these individuals under such a strict watch? At this point, it is necessary to mention the case of Ashley Smith. She was a troubled teen that had been incarcerated many times for petty crimes and moved from institution to institution. Throughout her incarceration, she was left in segregation, and at times, for twenty-four hours a day. It is said that The Institution had abandoned and discarded after multiple uncooperative behavioural situations . CBC’s Fifth Estate searched for answers for what had happened and obtained shocking footage of how she was treated in the system(cbc.ca/fifth). She was denied social interaction, trapped in a small cell with no bed, tied down humiliatingly and left to lie in her own urine, and other such unimaginable cases. Smith had made several suicide attempts in order to attract guard attention but a decision had been made to not intervene if the teen attempts to harm herself, unless she stops breathing. Ashley Smith died choking herself to death while guards watched outside her cell. Needless to say that after more than 3 years, an inquest deemed her death a homicide. In this case, death could have been prevented from the very beginning of her imprisonment, had her illness been recognized and treated.
Moreover, should incarcerated illegal immigrants be required round-the-clock surveillance? Should Jimenez have been watched even during most intimate times? Where do we draw the line? Suicide is a tragic and serious matter, but should the CBSA and Genesis be accountable for something that was completely arbitrary and unexpected? Each deportation case is different and every person has their own motive to enter Canada, but seldom will one take their own life because of it. This was regrettably an unfortunate incident and the bottom line is that no one should have to die while incarcerated. CBSA agents, who hold a monopoly in this field of policing, should broaden their function spectrum and work on preventing such deaths. The media coverage and refusal of both security organizations to answer any questions may suggest a recognition of fault.