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Claudia Franco Hijuelos, the Consulate-General of Mexico in Vancouver, discusses the in-custody death of Lucia Vega Jiminez at Vancouver International Airport at a news conference on Jan. 31, 2014. (Andrea Woo/The Globe and Mail)
Claudia Franco Hijuelos, the Consulate-General of Mexico in Vancouver, discusses the in-custody death of Lucia Vega Jiminez at Vancouver International Airport at a news conference on Jan. 31, 2014. (Andrea Woo/The Globe and Mail)

Woman who died in CBSA custody feared returning to domestic trouble in Mexico Add to ...

The Mexican woman who died by suicide while in the custody of the Canada Border Services Agency was fearful of being deported due to a “domestic situation” at home, according to the Mexican consulate in Vancouver.

The CBSA advised the consulate that Lucia Vega Jimenez had been detained about two or three days after her Dec. 1 arrest, Claudia Franco Hijuelos, Consul-General of Mexico, said Friday. Representatives from the consulate then spoke with Ms. Vega Jimenez several times in person and by phone, Ms. Franco Hijuelos said.

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“She was fearful of going back to Mexico – not to the country, but specifically to some domestic situation that she might face,” Ms. Franco Hijuelos said. “That is why we provided some options for her of transition houses where she might be housed. She considered the options and she chose one of those options. Everything was set for her to fly directly to that city in Mexico where the transition house would receive her.”

The consulate had even made arrangements for someone to pick up Ms. Vega Jimenez from the airport upon her arrival, Ms. Franco Hijuelos said.

“She seemed to be accepting the situation. It came to us as a surprise that she attempted suicide.”

Ms. Vega Jimenez, 42, was arrested in Vancouver on Dec. 1 after a fare and identity check by Transit Police revealed she was wanted by the CBSA on immigration matters. She was held in custody for three weeks, first at Alouette Correctional Centre and then at holding cells at Vancouver International Airport, before attempting to kill herself on Dec. 20. She was transported to hospital, where she died eight days later.

Court records show the Immigration and Refugee Board had denied a refugee claim by Ms. Vega Jimenez in 2010. She then applied for leave and judicial review in the Federal Court and that application was dismissed. It is believed Ms. Vega Jimenez was deported, then returned to Canada last year.

Her death has sparked outrage among civil liberties and migrant advocacy groups who are demanding more transparency from, and independent oversight of, the CBSA. Many demanded to know why the death was not made public until media began reporting on it.

The federal agency has declined media interviews on the matter, instead issuing two statements saying its immigration holding centres are regularly monitored; it did not ask Ms. Vega Jimenez’s family to sign a confidentiality agreement, as rumoured; and that the Richmond RCMP found no criminality.

“We are angered by what happened and we expect answers from the authorities that have jurisdiction in this case,” Ms. Franco Hijuelos said.

The BC Coroners Service, an independent and impartial body, will investigate the death. However, Josh Paterson, executive director of the BC Civil Liberties Association, expressed concern that the scope of that investigation may not be big enough.

“The coroners service is performing a very important function: They will do an independent look into the circumstances leading up to Ms. Vega Jimenez’s death,” he said. “But they have no ability to find fault. They have no ability to look at any of the conduct of CBSA after her death, and that is a big question here.”

Ms. Franco Hijuelos said she expects “the independent investigation to be carried out as fully and as swiftly as possible,” with findings made known to the consulate as soon as they are discovered.

She said “this scrutiny is healthy” and “should serve to streamline processes to improve protocols” but would not comment on advocacy groups’ criticisms regarding a lack of transparency and oversight at the CBSA.

“I will not comment on what is the purview of Canadian authorities,” Ms. Franco Hijuelos said, adding that she has spoken to the CBSA’s acting director.

“They said there’s an ongoing investigation and they would prefer not to comment on the case at this point.”

Follow me on Twitter: @AndreaWoo

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