BURNABY, B.C.—A series of mistakes was made by the private security firm hired by Canada’s border agency to guard a Mexican woman who hanged herself inside holding cells at Vancouver’s airport, a coroner’s jury has heard.
The inquest into the suicide death of Lucia Vega Jimenez, 42, watched on Wednesday grim close-circuit security video of the curly haired woman carrying a yellow towel from her cell in the dungeon-like holding facility below the airport’s hotel and into a shower stall. It then heard testimony from the young guard who cut her down.
More than 40 minutes elapsed between the time Jimenez disappeared behind a door and the time Genesis Security guard Jivan Sandhu entered the women’s common room in the facility.
After being alerted by a concerned detainee, he knocked and announced he would enter if there was no response.
Inquest lawyer Rodrick MacKenzie asked Sandhu about the fact he had heard the shower running earlier.
“You had no female security guard, correct? She had been sent off on a prisoner transport,” said MacKenzie. “Did you consider asking any of the other ladies that were there to go and check on her?”
“I didn’t ask any of them,” said Sandhu.
“But she was there longer than your check period?” MacKenzie asked.
Correct, Sandhu said.
“Are sometimes checks missed?” MacKenzie asked.
“Sometimes,” said Sandhu.
Paramedics took about 12 minutes to trek down a long, dark corridor to gain access to the underground airport jail to answer Sandhu’s 911 call. They arrived just after 7 a.m. on Dec. 20, 2013, and took over his furious attempts at resuscitation, the inquest heard.
Jimenez was taken off life support on Dec. 28.
Under questioning by lawyers, Sandhu, who had worked for Genesis Security for more than four years before Jimenez’s death, talked about inadequacies with the firm’s operations.
A mandated female guard had left the premise for another duty when the incident occurred, thick blinds shielded the control room where he was stationed, and he left his radio on his desk, said Sandhu.
The guard said he didn’t receive any suicide-prevention training, other than a one-time pamphlet.
No paperwork with information about Jimenez was given to Genesis Security by the Canada Border Services Agency, which was unlike the firm’s dealings with police, he said.
Sandhu admitted sometimes falsely filling out an internal form confirming he had completed all his tasks.
A B.C. Civil Liberties Association lawyer asked Sandhu if it was not unusual for a guard to be alone in the control room for more than 30 minutes, despite protocols.
“You’ve got too many jobs and not enough bodies—you’re going to drop the ball somewhere,” said Jason Gratl, noting he was not intending to blame Sandhu. “The contract just doesn’t allow you to satisfy all your standing orders?”
“There were some busy times,” said Sandhu in a soft voice. “It would have been helpful to have extra people.”
The inquest was called after members of Vancouver’s Mexican community made Jimenez’s death public. The coroners’ jury can make recommendations to prevent similar deaths but may not find fault.
Jimenez was taken into custody after being stopped for transit fare evasion and CBSA officers discovered she had already been deported from Canada before over a failed refugee claim.