YVR custody death raises concerns

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February 7, 2014

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Catherine Dauvergne (left) says CBSA is accountable for the death of a Mexican citizen at YVR airport, unless it can prove that a private contractor was seriously negligent. Photo: Martin Dee.

Catherine Dauvergne of UBC Law explores the legal ramifications of the tragedy

The in-custody death of Mexican national Lucia Vega Jimenez at Vancouver International Airport in December raises questions about the Canadian Border Services Agency’s role in the tragedy, says UBC Law Prof. Catherine Dauvergne.

What rights to migrants have while being held in-custody and are the CBSA’s actions in this case justified?

Non-status migrants have the same rights as anyone else in Canada under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. A detained person has the right to counsel. People can be put in immigration detention if their identity is not established, if they are a danger to the community, or if there is a risk – demonstrated by evidence – that they will not present themselves for an immigration proceeding. A hearing, or a deportation, for example. People cannot be detained because of a lack of migration status.

Who is legally responsible for this tragedy?

Detention is a core government function. CBSA is responsible for the actions of the contractors it employs. Genesis Security is the private security firm contracted by the CBSA to run the migrant-detention facility at the YVR. The government — in this case, the CBSA — is responsible for everything, unless they can prove the contractor was seriously negligent.

What is the potential legal fallout from this incident?

The legal fall out from this tragedy should be a formal inquiry into the events. Depending on what the inquiry demonstrates, a civil suit or criminal charges may also be appropriate.

As to the future, we know a great deal from the prison setting about how to care for people in custody.  We need to translate that knowledge and our best practices to the immigration detention setting.

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