“The Great test Tragedy is Not the Brutality of the Evil People, But Rather the Silence of the Good People.”
From the Toronto Star: That’s an appalling degree of unaccountability. It calls to mind people who disappeared into Soviet gulags, never to be heard from again. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government should demand that Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney instruct the CBSA to do as Correctional Service Canada does and release the names of those who die in custody, and all pertinent information. That couldn’t compromise any investigation. And any Privacy Act restrictions should be lifted to allow it.
Lift veil of secrecy on detainee deaths in Border Services custody: Editorial
The state has a duty to account for the lives of people in its custody. The Canada Border Services Agency should provide details of anyone who dies while in detention.
DARRYL DYCK / THE CANADIAN PRESS
The Canada Border Services Agency should provide details of anyone who dies while in detention.
Published on Mon Jun 15 2015
When people die in the custody of Canada’s police forces, prisons or immigration services the public has a vital interest in knowing who they were and how they died. It’s a matter of basic transparency and accountability, to prevent abuses from going on behind the closed gates of prisons and other detention centres.
But the Canada Border Services Agency feels bound by no such need for openness. Far from it. When a man who was being held at the Lindsay superjail died on Thursday it took CBSA 18 hours to acknowledge the death. And even then the details were unacceptably sketchy.
In a brief bulletin the agency said only that an adult male died at the Peterborough Regional Health Centre, and that his family and the appropriate authorities were notified. There was no mention of his name, age, nationality, cause of death, family connections in Canada, why he was being held, or where. Days later the public was still left guessing at many of these questions.
That’s an appalling degree of unaccountability. It calls to mind people who disappeared into Soviet gulags, never to be heard from again. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government should demand that Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney instruct the CBSA to do as Correctional Service Canada does and release the names of those who die in custody, and all pertinent information. That couldn’t compromise any investigation. And any Privacy Act restrictions should be lifted to allow it.
The Conservative government’s tough policy toward unlawful immigration should not extend to covering up the details when people die in custody.
When Christopher Robert Roy died on June 1 at Matsqui Institution in Abbotsford, B.C., the prison service immediately issued a bulletin giving his name, age, the circumstances of his death, his crime, his jail sentence and details of efforts to save his life.
Because Ontario police were responsible for the Lindsay detainee’s security, the Special Investigations Unit was called in and released a bulletin of its own with a few more details. It stated that the man was being held at the Central East Correctional Centre, that he was 39, and that he had become agitated while being treated at the hospital, was restrained and died.
But by and large the public was still left in the dark, waiting for the victim’s family to provide more information. That’s unacceptable. While families have a right to privacy, the state has a duty to account for the lives of people it detains. In this case that accountability wasn’t there.
The CBSA is not a small-potatoes operation. It detained more than 8,400 people last year, holding them for an average of 20 days. And last week’s grudging death announcement wasn’t an isolated case. The agency issued an almost identical, content-free bulletin when Joseph Charles Todd Dunn died last Sept. 27 at the Niagara Detention Centre. And when Lucia Vega Jimenez hanged herself at a holding centre in Vancouver in 2013, the agency didn’t even issue a bulletin on the heels of her death.
As reported by Global News, there have now been a dozen documented deaths in CBSA/immigration custody in the past 15 years. Yet the agency continues to be accountable only to itself. That’s not good enough.
As the Star has written before, Canadians are seeing privacy and confidentiality being invoked far too frequently in cases like this, to shield bureaucratic institutions from embarrassment, outside scrutiny or criticism. When information is withheld from the public, skepticism and suspicion will fill the gap.
Little wonder, then, that groups such as the End Immigration Detention Network are lobbying for an end to long-term immigration detention, credible oversight for the excessively secretive CBSA, a halt to holding detainees in maximum security institutions, and an overhaul of the adjudication process, among other reforms.
With every sloughed-off death in custody, the CBSA helps to make their case.
(During nine months tormented physically and psychologically in five concentration camps of Ontario.)