Immigration detainee’s mysterious death is the second in seven days

Canada Border Services Agency officers are seen in this file image. THE CANADIAN PRESS

An immigration detainee jailed at the sprawling Maplehurst Correctional Complex outside Toronto died Sunday, the Canada Border Services Agency announced Monday – making him the second detainee to die in seven days.

Neither man’s name has been officially released. However, activists today identified the latest death as Francisco Astorga, and that on March 7 as Melkioro Gahungu.

Gahungu, a Burundian national, was being held after serving a sentence for manslaughter. Admitted as a refugee in 2008, he stabbed his wife to death in Windsor in 2009.

Ordered deported by then-Immigration Minister Jason Kenney in December 2012, Gahungu was being held as a danger to the public. Last week, the Toronto Star quoted unnamed sources at the CBSA as saying that Gahungu had hanged himself.

At detention hearings in April 2015, Gahungu appeared unaware of his surroundings and talked frequently about his death, documents released to Global News show.

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“If I had money, I would pay somebody so that they can shoot me or they can hit me with a club,” Gahungu told an immigration detention hearing in April, 2015.

“All he wants is just somebody to just kill him,” the interpreter explained. “He is just mentioning something like that, something of this sort, that instead of being wherever he is, he is just — or the situation he is in, he could just be killed or somebody like order — somebody to kill him or kill himself, something of the sort.”

Gahungu also referred to his wife as if she was still alive and could not say what the jail he was in was called. At a hearing the following day, he referred to his lawyer as having been killed.

Andrew Rustja, an immigration official who acted as prosecutor at the hearing, said that Gahungu had twice been flagged as a suicide risk while incarcerated, and was on antidepressants and antipsychotic medication. He was hospitalized at Millhaven penitentiary for mental health reasons, Rustja said.

The CBSA is more secretive about detainee deaths than the federal prison system, which releases a name and some details if an inmate dies. Until recently, the CBSA didn’t announce detainee deaths at all.

READ MORE: Counting deaths in immigration detention

Immigration detention activists are still urging Ontario’s chief coroner to hold an inquest into the death of Abdurahman Hassan, a Somali detainee held in the Lindsay jail who died in hospital in Peterborough last June. Little is known about his death. His medical issues included asthma, insulin-dependent diabetes and high blood pressure.

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No inquest has been announced. A spokesperson for Ontario’s chief coroner said that an investigation was still underway when Global News followed the issue up recently.

“A coroner’s inquest is one of the few limited options,” says Syed Hussan of End Immigration Detention Network. “We’re just trying to get answers from somewhere.”

READ MORE: Not Wanted in Canada

Immigration detention can turn into a kind of indefinite incarceration if the person concerned cannot either be deported or released. The setting is a maximum-security provincial jail not designed for long-term imprisonment.

The indefinite nature of the detention can have terrible effects on detainees’ mental health, concluded a report published last year by the University of Toronto’s law school.

“We hear a lot about the impact of mental health in immigration detention,” Hassan says. “It’s endless. There’s no end in sight, and it’s impossible to remain sane in that circumstance.”

Successive reports on immigration detention by the Canadian Red Cross have flagged detainees’ mental health as a concern, saying that they have limited access to psychiatric care, and are more likely to attempt suicide or self-harm than inmates jailed for criminal reasons.

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