Migrant dies in Canadian “immigration holding centre” on Christmas Day

Published by Brent Patterson on

Photo by Nick Procaylo.

The Canadian Press reports: “Border officials say a detainee at an immigration holding centre in Surrey, B.C., has died after being found unresponsive on Christmas Day. [A Canada Border Services Agency] statement says Surrey RCMP and the B.C. Coroners Service are now investigating the circumstances surrounding the detainee’s death.”

Postmedia News further reports: “Human rights advocates are criticizing Canada’s border agency for its secrecy regarding the Christmas Day death saying the lack of information prevents accountability or meaningful change.”

The Canada Border Services Agency “did not release the person’s name, age, country of origin, or any detailed circumstances surrounding the death.”

That article adds: “The CBSA refused to provide details to Postmedia News about the age of the person, whether they had any health concerns, whether the person was alone in their room or with other detainees, whether the person had any interactions with other detainees or staff before their death and whether the room is monitored by video surveillance.”

Samer Muscati from Human Rights Watch says: “We don’t know what their names are, we don’t know if they had a family, where they came from. We don’t know how long they were detained, why they were detained, if they had any adverse health conditions. There’s nothing that we know about this person. It’s just a nameless, faceless person that has passed away.”

Muscati adds: “It’s really another disgraceful way that people in immigration detention are dehumanized, even after they die.”

Postmedia also notes: “It is the second death in immigration detention this year. In January, a person held in a holding centre in Quebec died after they were found in medical distress. Nearly a year later, that person’s identity and cause of death has not been released by CBSA.”

This statement from Migrante BC, Sanctuary Health and others also notes: “This death on Christmas Day exposes the numbers of immigrants, including children, who are detained in Canada. Between April 2019 and March 2020, there were 8,825 people detained between the ages of 15 and 83. In the same period, another 136 children were ‘housed’ in detention with their detained parents, including 73 under age 6.”

The statement further notes: “Since 2000, at least 17 people have died in immigration detention, with at least six deaths since 2016.”

“In 2014, on Coast Salish Territories, the community had to fight for an inquest to get all the details of the death of Lucia Vega Jimenez, a Mexican national without status in Canada: from the transit police officer who called CBSA because she had an accent, to the CBSA officer who introduced himself as a ‘liaison’ and used her answers against her in her detention review hearing, to the private security guard playing video games while she died.”

The Peace Brigades International-Mexico Project has accompanied the Casa del Migrante de Saltillo, which helps undocumented migrants from Central America, in particular from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, travel through Mexico en route to the border with the United States.

As noted on the PBI-Mexico website: “In addition to their recognized work providing humanitarian support to migrants, they also carry out the courageous task of denouncing and documenting violations of migrants’ human rights.”

“The humanitarian support that the Casa provides to migrants includes medical and psychological care for those who need it, as well as legal assistance helping individuals with the migratory process and in deportation cases.”

There are three federally-run “immigration holding centres” in Canada located in Surrey, Toronto and Laval. The Canada Border Services Agency also keeps immigration detainees in provincial “correctional centres”.

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