BURNABY, B.C. — A Mexican woman willingly signed travel documents for her deportation and was calm and showed no distress in the days before she hanged herself, a Canada Border Services Agency officer told an inquest into the death.
Lucia Vega Jimenez seemed to accept the fact that she was being deported and that her flight was booked back to Mexico, CBSA case officer Raman Vandher told the inquest on Tuesday.
Together with a senior colleague, Vandher informed the woman of the plan while observing her reaction so they could assess if an escort would be required for security purposes, she testified.
“She didn’t have a lot to say when we asked about how she felt about it. She understood,” Vandher said on the inquest on its second day.
The 42-year-old hotel worker was found inside a shower stall at the Vancouver airport holding cells on Dec. 20, 2013. She was taken off life-support in hospital on Dec. 28 with her sister by her side.
The inquest was called to examine the circumstances leading to her suicide in order to make recommendations for preventing similar deaths.
The inquest has heard that Jimenez grew increasingly tense and lost her appetite while incarcerated under maximum security because she had difficulties retaining a lawyer in the three weeks in December leading up to her death.
Two imprisoned foreigners who befriended Jimenez at Alouette Correctional Centre for Women, east of Vancouver, said she confided in them a fear of torture or death by a gang or drug cartel if returned home.
Others, including a prison nurse who speaks Spanish, reported only ever being told she feared an abusive boyfriend.
Jimenez finally made contact with a lawyer five days before a crucial deadline in the deportation process.
Vandher testified about a convoluted series of communications between herself, Jimenez and the lawyer about a key document that would give the woman more time to fight her removal.
When the deadline for the document arrived, Vandher said the lawyer told her Jimenez had waived her right to a pre-removal risk assessment, then Jimenez reversed that decision and did want the assessment.
By then the deadline had passed and deportation was imminent, Vandher said.
Jimenez’s lawyer, Emma Andrews, is not slated to testify.
Neil Chantler, a lawyer for the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, was stopped by the coroner mid-way through his questioning of Vandher when he suggested that in hindsight it became known that Jimenez was upset by her deportation. Chantler said perhaps the case could have been handled with more sensitivity.
“I’m not suggesting at all any fault,” said Chantler. “Do you believe had you had the benefit of some of the mental health training you’ve received now, you might have been in a better position to assess Ms. Vega Jimenez’s reaction?”
Vandher’s voice broke and she began to cry.
“Based on the training that I attended, one of the main things that they said was that there are no signs.”
Spanish-speaking nurse Lilia Hernandes-Cazares later told the inquest that Jimenez was quiet and nervous when she examined her for chest pains at the prison.
The nurse said Jimenez showed her old scars on her body.
The nurse scheduled Jimenez for a follow-up appointment with a mental-health co-ordinator, only days before the attempted suicide. Hernandes-Cazares said she believed the appointment was cancelled in error.
The nurse recommended to the coroner’s jury that people incarcerated for immigration issues should be required a minimum stay to ensure they are properly assessed for mental and other health concerns.
“It’s a horrible thing that happened,” she said. “In her case, she was afraid for her life. I just don’t think it would be fair for her not to be given a proper chance.”
Several other recommendations have been made so far, including improving a prison telephone system that provides only an English message with instructions that could be difficult for an international receiver to understand.