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British Columbia Activists demand answers after death of woman detained at airport

Vancouver International Airport in November 2010.

Laura Leyshon/The Globe and Mail

Civil liberties activists are demanding answers in the in-custody death of a Mexican woman who was held by the Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA) in Vancouver.

The 42-year-old woman was taken into custody in early December and transferred from a provincial correctional facility to a holding cell at Vancouver International Airport on Dec. 19, according to Barb McLintock with the BC Coroners Service.

Around 6 a.m. the next morning, "things started to go wrong" and the woman was taken to Mount Saint Joseph Hospital in Vancouver's Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, where she died on Dec. 28, Ms. McLintock said.

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Both the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) and the Mexican Consulate in Vancouver have identified the woman as Lucia Vega Jimenez, a Mexican national.

Josh Paterson, executive director of the BCCLA, said the CBSA must be held accountable for the death of Ms. Jimenez, who was in its care and custody at the time. He noted 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.

"As several commissions of inquiry in B.C. have reported, police-on-police investigation is not appropriate," Mr. Paterson said in a statement.

It is not known how long Ms. Jimenez had been in Canada or why she was originally arrested. The CBSA said first responders were called to the airport's B.C. Immigration Holding Centre on Dec. 20 and a "short-term detainee" was sent to hospital.

The Richmond RCMP was initially called to investigate the matter but has since found it not to be criminal in nature, the CBSA said.

An inquest into the death will be considered, Ms. McLintock said.

Meanwhile, the Mexican Consulate in Vancouver says it has been in contact with Ms. Jiminez's family and arranged for her remains to be returned to Mexico.

"The Government of Mexico deeply regrets the death of Lucia Vega and has expressed its condolences to her family," the consulate said in a statement. "The Consulate General will be attentive to the results of the inquest by Canadian Authorities in this case."

The Richmond RCMP did not return a call for comment.

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