Home / Media Release: Second death in CBSA custody in a week raises urgent questions, rights watchdogs say

Media Release: Second death in CBSA custody in a week raises urgent questions, rights watchdogs say

CBSA the only police force in Canada without independent accountability

For immediate release

TORONTO (March 15, 2016) – The B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (CARL) reacted this morning to the report of a second death in Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) custody in the space of a week. The BCCLA and CARL are  leading organizations in the nationwide effort to address the failure of the federal government to establish an independent accountability agency to supervise the CBSA.

Francisco Javier Romero Astorga is reported in the Toronto Star to have died in CBSA custody at the provincial correctional facility in Milton, Ontario. Last week a detainee committed suicide at Toronto East Detention Centre.

Josh Paterson, Executive Director of the BCCLA, stated: “We are deeply concerned by this death – the second death of an individual in CBSA custody in one week. While we don’t yet know the facts surrounding these deaths, we know that both individuals were under the care and protection of the CBSA when they died. Whether CBSA houses the detainees itself, or whether they are housed by the CBSA’s provincial government contractor, the CBSA’s duty is to do everything in its power to ensure that its detainees don’t wind up dead. These deaths raise the question as to whether CBSA is again failing in its duty to protect those who are in its care.”

Noting that 14 people have died in CBSA custody in since 2000, Mitchell Goldberg, President of CARL stated: “We are urging the new government to act. Far too many people have died despite years and years of recommendations to create an independent accountability agency to supervise the Canada Border Services Agency. The CBSA wields a wide range of police powers and deals with some of the most vulnerable people in Canada. Canadians expect accountability from every other police force in this country – why should the CBSA continue to be the exception to this rule, while every year, more detainees die in its custody? When a detainee dies, we need an independent investigation to provide answers.”

In 2006, the O’Connor Inquiry studying national security accountability recommended that the CBSA’s national security function be subjected to external review. In 2014, a coroner’s inquest in British Columbia recommended independent oversight for CBSA after the in-custody suicide death of Lucia Vega Jimenez, which CBSA did not publicly reveal until after details leaked out through the media. In 2015, the Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defence called on the government to establish an oversight body for CBSA, and the creation of an independent, civilian review and complaints body to review all of CBSA’s activities. Last week, the BCCLA, Amnesty International, CARL and other civil society organizations reiterated their demand to the government for independent oversight of CBSA.

Backgrounder: Read the backgrounder on CBSA accountability from BCCLA, Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers and Canadian Council for Refugees