WATCH: It was a dramatic day at the Lucia Jimenez inquest. Rumina Daya has the details.
BURNABY, B.C. – A Mexican woman who hanged herself inside the Vancouver airport jail while awaiting deportation had been ejected from Canada once before, a coroner’s jury heard at the inquest into her death.
Several significant details about Lucia Vega Jimenez popped up in the Canada Border Services Agency database when border agent Josie Perri looked her up before attending a call from transit police.
Jimenez had been stopped for fare evasion at a downtown Vancouver SkyTrain station on Dec. 1, 2013. The inquest heard that suspicions were raised when the 42-year-old woman, who spoke with a noticeable accent, provided two different names to police.
“I discovered that she was in our system,” Perri said. “She had been in Canada previously, three years prior, and had made a refugee claim which was denied and she was subsequently deported at that time.”
The encounter with police, as Jimenez headed home about 10 a.m. from cleaning work at a Vancouver hotel, led to her arrest and detention for transfer back to Mexico. Three weeks later, she attempted to kill herself and was found hanging in a shower at the holding cells in the airport. She died in hospital on Dec. 28.
While in jail, Jimenez had been under watch by a security company subcontracted by the border agency, the inquest heard.
Her death only became public after members of the Mexican community went to media.
A coroner’s inquest was called two months later. The jury is tasked with making recommendations to prevent similar deaths, but may not place any blame.
Perri told the inquest that even before arresting Jimenez, she knew the woman had tried to rectify her failed refugee claim by applying for a visa at the Canadian consulate in Mexico City. She was denied, in part, because Jimenez had not disclosed that she previously worked in Canada and also provided misinformation about being employed in Mexico, the inquest heard.
Jimenez returned to Canada in April 2013, even though she knew she hadn’t obtained the necessary authorization, said Perri.
“I asked her how and where she came to Canada. She said she came through the bushes in Surrey somewhere. She wasn’t exactly sure,” Perri said. “She snuck into Canada illegally.”
Jimenez told Perri she had a mother and five sisters back in Mexico, the agent said.
“But she said that she could not go back to Mexico. She had some issues with … a boyfriend who had abused her and she was fearful of returning. When I asked if she could go live with her family she said she could, but she preferred it here better in Canada.”
Both Perri and the transit officer who first stopped Jimenez said the woman appeared visibly upset when arrested, but did not cry. Both said they did not have any concerns about her mental state.
Also slated to testify at the inquest are the private security guards on duty at the airport jail, two people who met Jimenez during her incarceration and a nurse at the provincial facility where she was held in the weeks before her death.
As the inquest began, a group of two dozen immigration advocates and friends of the woman waved signs and chanted “No more deaths” outside the office tower where the inquest is being held.
Oscar Leal, a friend dating back to the first time Jimenez was in Canada in 2007, described her as a very nice person
“Lucia was not a criminal,” he said. “She was just trying to make a life here, trying to find a job, helping her family out in Mexico.”