On December 20th 2013, Lucia Vega Jimenez killed herself under the detention of the Canadian Border Services Agency in Vancouver BC. Her death, which was kept a secret for over a month, has sparked many questions and political action in the migrant justice community. No One Is Illegal put together a petition with over 7,000 signatures demanding an independent civilian investigation in to Lucia’s death and the end of racist and anti-migrant policies from the Canadian Government. Sula Greene spoke to Karla Lottini and Shireen Soofi from No One Is Illegal about their demands and the circumstances surrounding Lucia’s death.
Shirene Soofi: I am Shirene, I got involved with No One Is Illegal just over a year ago, after being involved with Solidarity Across Borders in Montreal, with Migrant Justice Collective and Anti-Colonial Migrant Just Work. It is through the injustices that I saw, taking place under the oppressive Canadian government and the Mexico exclusionary and racist policies that they are implementing on migrant, that became involved in No One is Illegal.
Lucia Vega Jimenez was in Canada from 2010. Since then she was arrested, and people were deported to Mexico. In between then, in 2013, she came back. On December 1st she was arrested by a transit police for an unpaid bus ticket, and form then she was transferred to immigration authorities and incarcerated pending for deportation. And from then, she was transferred to Vancouver Deportation Center, and was in detention until she hung herself on December 20th, and then die 8 days later at the hospital. And so, since then CBSA (Canada Border Services Agency) keep it as a secret for more than a month until it got out public, and created huge public outcry for justice after her death.
Carla Latini: My name is Carla Latini, I am from Mexico. I am a journalist. In 2008 I applied to Canada. The same year more then 10 000 Mexicans applied. And I met her, when I was at the end of the application process, when I was applying for agencies and stuff. And I got aware of the petition that was going around, but we couldn’t formally support it. You know I have two daughters. My family and I got very close to be deported. But, still, we find it important to support grassroots migrant organization.
Despite the secrecy surrounding Lucia’s case, the story eventually came out. Carla explains me exactly how word about it started to spread over social media.
Carla Latini: The reason is that it started to be spread on facebook, is important. A friend of mine, the sister of my friend, she is Spanish, and she post something on facebook about Lucia saying that she was in detention for two weeks and she committed suicide. So immediately after, I report this information, and I reach out her sister because I knew that she was raising money for her flight to Mexico. So you know, nothing happened, and when the sister left to Canada, then I receive the information about the confidential agreement (The sister was in Canada to take her sister back to Mexico, and she signed a disclosure agreement with the Canadian Government). Of course, I reach out No One is Illegal, and they say they don’t know exactly if they could do something, but there was enough information, I knew.
We didn’t know which detention center, we didn’t have the complete name, and the Mexican Consulate didn’t want to say anything, and they didn’t mention anything, and the community and the people who knew were afraid to talk and to speak out, because some of them are people who are still waiting for immigration papers, and so on, and so they were afraid to speak.
After the word began to spread about Lucia’s death and the lack of transparency that fallowed in the month after, No One is Illegal organized a petition that gained over 7 thousand signatures. I turned to Shirene to explain the exact demands lay out on the petition, and to Carla to explain the significance, not just for Lucia’s case, but for all those facing harsh, and anti-migration policies in Canada.
Shirene Soofi: We were demanding three things that are pointed to the Minister of public safety, Steven Blaney, CBSA and the British Columbia Coroners Services. The first demand is the have a full transparent and independent civilian inquiry and investigation to the tragedy of Lucia’s death. Because currently, to date, there has only been investigation by Richmond RCMP, and this is a police investigation extremely inacceptable and inappropriate. And so we demand a full transparent and independent civilian inquiry.
The second is to have an independent civilian oversight review of migrant detention policies. Because there are many policies that the government had implemented that are extremely unjust, and that don’t allow a fair chance to gain status in Canada.
And third, is to put an end to cruel impunities detention conditions. We are seeing now that infinite detention and mandatory detention. I mentioned the two chairs refugee system that is implemented by justice policies, and so we are calling for the end of these conditions. People can’t be detained indefinitely, this is extremely cruel, and also for those who get caught in the bureaucracy of immigration policies.
Carla Latini: I should say that it is not only a campaign for Lucia, because we can’t bring Lucia again, but we can try to, we are pretty sure we can try to avoid this again. It can happen to anyone, you just need to be sad. And the family is not always there, so we need to give the support. You don’t need to be someone none to receive the support, yesterday Lucia, tomorrow who? This is something incredible, because it is a democratic country, but with all the polemic surrounding immigration, Canada is a long way from there. We need the support from all country’s organizations, and beyond borders.
The implication of the petition put out by No One is Illegal targeted systemic injustices embedded in Canada’s immigration policies. I ask Shirene to elaborate on those oppressions that migrant face, and whether she believes that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Minister of public safety, Steven Blaney, have an anti-migrant agenda.
Shirene Soofi: I think that it is evident that from December 2012, the implementation of the refugee exclusive Act, Bill-C 31. In it included policies such as mandatory detention for those who are deemed irregular arrivals or who are smuggled into the country. Irregular arrival means almost anyone who comes to Canada not on a plane or even the one coming by plan but comes under certain conditions or circumstances. And I think that Stephen Harper, and the immigrations ministers and the whole trajectory of the conservative government is dangerous. And it is not a beginning it has been taking place since a long time. Canada has been created on colonialism and oppression, but I think this government is definitely taking an even further anti-migrants stand, and implements many policies that creates a 2/3 migration system, that make some migrants coming from designate countries, or the so called “safe countries” are not granted the same rights that some other countries. And it creates a hierarchy of status, and a hierarchy of migration, and of rights. And I think it is definitely to disempower migrants, and to criminalize migration.
Mexico is one of those “safe countries”, that Shirene mentions. But as Carla states: “it is not a safe place, I would love to know why then it is designate as such.” So why, I ask Shirene. How the Canadian government decides which countries are unsafe, and which countries are?
Shirene Soofi: The list of designate safe countries was creates after the implementation of the Refugee exclusion Act, and those are based in reality off of trade, strategic trade countries that are beneficial to Canada. And so looking at Mexico, Canada had made many trade agreements with Mexico, and as a result they can’t deemed a country that is not fulfilling Human Rights, and protecting their citizens, because if they did so, they wouldn’t be able to have so close trade agreements. And so we see that these so called “safe countries” are not necessarily what they are named. But you can’t determine before hands, which countries bring refugees, and which don’t. Also Hungary is list on the list, to stop Roman refugees for coming into Canada. And so yes, this list is made by the one in power, and those who want to deter from being able to come to Canada, and to gain status.
Lastly, Shirene talked with me about how Lucia’s case, is not one occurred in isolation.
Shirene Soofi: Since 2004, there is been between 8 000 to 14 000 detained every year in Canada. So this case, unfortunately is not one in isolation. There is thousands or migrants in detention every year, and many of them are incarcerated alongside those who are facing criminal charges. So it is evident that the Canadian government is criminalizing migrants from the simple act of migration which is not a crime.