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Border services tight lipped over death

Many questions remain surrounding the death of a Mexican woman who had been held by Canada Border Services Agency at Vancouver's airport, and the agency is revealing few answers.

Lucia Vega Jimenez was taken into custody at Vancouver International Airport last month. BC Coroners Service confirmed Wednesday that the 42-year-old was rushed to the hospital Dec. 20 after she was found hanging in a shower stall at the airport's immigration holding centre.

Vega Jimenez was removed from life support a week later with her family present, Coroner Barb McLintock said in a written release.

News of Vega Jimenez's death surfaced in media reports this week, prompting civil liberties activists to question why CBSA did not disclose information about the death sooner.

"It took a month for the story to break through the media, and we think it's completely unacceptable that someone should die in the custody of a law enforcement agency and no disclosure's made to the public," said Josh Paterson, executive director of the BC Civil Liberties Association on Wednesday.

Jean-Pierre Fortin, national president of Customs and Immigration Union, said he only learned of the woman's death from media reports this week. He said while Vega Jimenez was in the custody of CBSA, she was detained by a sub-contracted security company.

"It's not common practice, but I know it's taking place in certain places in Canada. BC's one of them," he said.

Paterson said his group finds the whole incident very troubling.

"Someone has died in custody — it appears in reports she committed suicide —and we have questions as to how that came to be. Could her death have been prevented? What were the circumstances of it?"

CBSA refused a phone interview, but said in an emailed statement that the agency never asked Jimenez's family to sign a confidentiality agreement.

The statement said the agency's detention facilities are regularly monitored by independent organizations. Detainees are informed of their legal rights, and they are allowed access to legal counsel, telephones and visitation, it said.

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