Vigil marking one year since the death of Lucia Vega Jiménez calls for Transit Police reforms

by Travis Lupick on Dec 12, 2014 Georgia Straight

Nearly one year has passed since Mexican immigrant Lucia Vega Jiménez took her own life while in the custody of Canada Border Services Agency at Vancouver International Airport. A vigil and demonstration is planned for Sunday (December 14). A new committee called Transportation Not Deportation is asking supporters to gather inside the Main Street SkyTrain station at 4 p.m.

A transit station was selected as the event’s location because that’s where Vega Jiménez first encountered the authorities that turned her over to the CBSA officers who marked her for deportation.

Vega Jiménez was in Canada illegally and on December 1, 2013, was stopped by Transit Police. She failed to produce proof that she had paid her fare and was subsequently asked for identification. The interaction led Transit Police officers to report the case to CBSA.

Vega Jiménez was one of 328 individuals that Transit Police referred to CBSA, the force later revealed. Those calls resulted in 62 investigations.

In a telephone interview, Daniel Tseghay, an organizer with Transportation Not Deportation and No One Is Illegal, argued Transit Police should not play a role in immigration matters that can lead to deportation.

“What we’re finding is a lot of referrals to the CBSA are coming from Transit Police,” he told the Straight. “So if we’re going to be talking about the CBSA, if we are going to be talking about detentions and deportations of migrants, we have to talk about the very specific ways in which those practices are enforced.”

Tseghay said Transportation Not Deportation is calling for three specific policy reforms.

The first is for Transit Police to stop collaborating with CBSA. The second, he continued, is for Transit Police officers to cease carrying firearms. And a “long-term” goal is for public transit in Metro Vancouver to be made accessible for all marginalized groups or even be made free.

In July 2014, Transit Police spokesperson Anne Drennan told the Straight the force was open to changing how it deals with undocumented people who might be at risk of deportation. “We’ve indicated that we would be more than willing to sit at the table and discuss this situation and listen to both sides of the issue,” she said.

Reached for an update on December 11, Drennan reported that a number of initiatives are underway.

She said Transit Police have met with Transportation Not Deportation organizers and discussed how people without legal status in Canada might be provided with a form of identification that would negate the need to refer individuals to CBSA.

Drennan said Transit Police is also in the process of crafting a policy that will prohibit officers from inquiring about the immigration status of any individual who is reporting a crime or incident that occurred on public transit.

“Any victims or witnesses that come to us will not be asked for their immigration status,” she said. “Because we believe that police services should be available to all members of the community regardless of their status.”

Third, Drennan continued, Transit Police is hosting a train-the-trainers session in January that will aim to address “implicit bias”.

“So not overt bias,” she explained. “But implicit bias that may be presented or displayed even inadvertently, in that most human beings carry some forms of bias and that police are probably no different.”

During a coroner’s inquest that was convened to establish the circumstances of Vega Jiménez’s death, a jury heard that the woman’s ethnic background was a factor in her initial encounter with law enforcement.

“I understood that she had an accent when I spoke with her,” said Transit Police Const. Jason Schuss while providing testimony. “With that, I could tell she wasn’t originally from Canada. That’s the reason I tried to identify her.”

Tseghay confirmed that committee members had met with Transit Police but declined to provide details.

“We are continuing to pressure them to create policy where they are not facilitating the deportation of people,” he said.

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