TORONTO — A cloak of secrecy shrouded the death of a man in the custody of Canada’s immigration authorities Friday, with details sketchy and his identity and nationality withheld.
However, an activist group that works with detainees said the man died from a lack of effective medical care for his diabetic condition and said it would release his name after he’s buried in Toronto later on Friday.
The group, End Immigration Detention Network, accused Canada Border Services Agency of a lack transparency and decried its use of prisons to hold people not charged with any crime.
“CBSA is clearly unwilling to act on the death and misery caused by immigration detention,” the network’s Syed Hussan said in a statement. “It needs to end.”
In a brief news release late Thursday, the border agency announced the man’s death in hospital in Peterborough, Ontario.
“The Canada Border Services Agency was notified by the Peterborough General Hospital that an adult male detainee, who was receiving care, passed away in hospital,” the statement said.
The release, issued about 18 hours after the death, gave no further information about who he was, where he was from or any other circumstances of his detention or death. It did say his family had been notified.
A trickle of details emerged a few hours later when the province’s Special Investigations Unit, which probes reports of death, serious injury or sexual assault involving police, said it was investigating the death.
The unit said the man was 39 years old and was being detained at the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ont. He had been admitted to the Peterborough Regional Health Centre for medical reasons under escort from local and provincial police officers, the SIU said.
“At approximately 1 a.m. on Thursday, June 11, 2015, the man became agitated,” the SIU said.
“At the request of medical staff, he was restrained by the officers and by health professionals. Shortly after, the man went vital signs absent and was subsequently pronounced dead.”
On Friday, a spokeswoman for the border agency refused to elaborate beyond confirming the SIU investigation of the death and the fact the coroner’s office had been contacted.
“We are not releasing any further information because the investigation is ongoing,” Antonella Digirolamo said. “That’s all I have for you.”
The SIU was similarly tight-lipped Friday. However, spokeswoman Monica Hudon cited SIU policy of deferring to the family when it came to releasing the names of those who die in custody.
“We let the families decide,” Hudon said. “The family has asked us not to release the name.”
Hudon said she did not know where the family was located.
Peterborough police referred inquiries to the SIU.
Coroner’s juries have criticized the border agency in the past for how it dealt with detainees with medical needs — especially in terms of providing medical authorities with proper health records.
It’s only in recent years that CBSA has begun to release any information at all — the date and place — about detainee deaths.
Correctional Service Canada does release names of inmates who die in its custody.
End Immigration Network said this was the 12th reported death in detention custody and the second this year and called on Ontario to sever its ties with CBSA.
The Canadian Red Cross has long criticized its lack of access to immigration detainees held in Ontario jails.
Neither the Ontario government nor Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney provided a comment.