Unpaid transit fares should not spark call to CBSA, say migrant advocates

By Joanne Lee-Young, Vancouver Sun December 14, 2014

Unpaid transit fares should not spark call to CBSA, say migrant advocates

METRO VANCOUVER — Community groups gathered at the Main Street SkyTrain station Sunday afternoon to mark the death of Lucia Vega Jimenez a year ago and to call for changes to the way Transit police interact with the Canada Border Services Agency. A meeting was held last Thursday with Transit police, said Harsha Walia of the group No One Is Illegal, which operates a phone line for people in immigration detention.

On December 1, 2013, Jimenez, a Mexican woman who was in Canada illegally, was at the Main Street SkyTrain station when she failed to produce proof that she had paid her transit fare. She was apprehended first by Transit police who referred her case to CBSA. She later killed herself at an airport holding cell while awaiting deportation.

At an inquest into her death, the Transit police officer who questioned her said he called CBSA after Jimenez gave him two different names that did not show up on public databases, and because she had an accent.

Walia said advocates, including members of No One is Illegal and Sanctuary Health, who launched a campaign called Transportation Not Deportation, are asking for several changes, including:

• A policy on what kind of identification is acceptable and the immediate acceptance of different kinds of identification, including non-government forms such as food bank and community centre cards or bills showing place of residence.

• Changes to the way Transit police use CBSA databases. “Ultimately, we don’t think they should be using these, but if they are, we would like to know when and under what circumstances this is happening,” said Walia. “There is no need to do this. When you get a parking ticket or are dealing with any other municipal bylaw, CBSA is not called.”

• An end to collaboration and referral of cases between Transit police and CBSA. “We have heard that one in five referrals from Transit police to CBSA has resulted in an immigration investigation,” said Walia. “What were the grounds for these?”

Transit police released a statement ahead of the SkyTrain station vigil, saying it was in discussions with migrant advocates and that its chief, Neil Dubord, was committed to “working with local government and policing partners to achieve a common process of understanding related to undocumented immigrants.”

In a telephone interview, Transit police Const. Kevin Goodmurphy added Dubord is “leading the charge. One of the things that seems to be important is some sort of directive that allows our members not to question that status of victims or witnesses.”

While “it is so early on” in a process that is “complex and challenging, our chief is absolutely open to further conversations.”

Walia said supporters at the vigil, including members of the Mexican community, felt the statement was making “gestures toward our demands,”

but they were “disappointed at the lack of concrete measures.

“There wasn’t really an answer. There was no mention, for example, of even what identification is considered acceptable,” said Walia.

“People in the crowd (at the SkyTrain station vigil) said when they are riding the SkyTrain, they are going to walk up to Transit police and just start pressuring and asking them these questions until they get some consistent answers.”

jlee-young@vancouversun.com

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